Dean's Seminars

The Dean’s Seminars provide Columbian College freshman students focused scholarship on specific intellectual challenges. They explore significant academic issues under the guidance of distinguished scholars and teachers. Students engage in directed critical inquiry, employing the unique resources of the nation’s capital and the university. Students not only learn to evaluate the scholarship and traditions that have formed our world view, but also create their own scholarship of consequence.

Spring 2015

Civil Rights Movement

  • Professor Thomas Guglielmo
  • G-PAC: Humanities
  • AMST 1000.10
  • CRN: 43855
  • TR 9:35-10:50 a.m.

The civil rights movement, among the most dramatic and important stories in all U.S. history, is little understood.  Conventional wisdom tends to focus on larger-than-life leaders like Martin Luther King and made-for-television events like the March on Washington, but loses sight of the dynamism and significance of grassroots organizing.  It recalls the epic battles against Jim Crow lunch counters and water fountains in the South, but forgets those for equal access to good jobs and strong unions throughout the country.  It looks primarily at African Americans, as it should, but often overlooks other activists of color and their own unique freedom struggles.  For all these reasons, it makes sense to talk not of the civil rights movement in the singular, but many civil rights movements in the plural—movements that varied over time and place and involved a varied mix of blacks—working class and middle class, Northern and Southern, urban and rural, radical and moderate, Christian and secular, women and men—as well as a similarly diverse groups of Latinos, Asian Americans, Native Americans, and some whites.  This course will chart the history of these multiple movements, focusing on their early origins and present-day formations, triumphs and failures, ironies and unexpected outcomes. 

Tom Guglielmo is Associate Professor of American Studies.  His teaching and research interests include race and ethnic studies, immigration, and twentieth-century U.S. social, cultural, and political history. His first book, White on Arrival: Italians, Race, Color, and Power in Chicago, 1890-1945 (Oxford University Press, 2003), received the Frederick Jackson Turner Award from the Organization of American Historians and the Allan Nevins Prize from the Society of American Historians. He is presently at work on a second book, Race War: World War II and the Crisis of American Democracy (under contract with Oxford University Press).

Back to top

Pathway to a Renewable Chemical Economy

  • Professor Stuart Licht
  • G-PAC: Natural or Physical Lab Sciences
  • CHEM 1000.10
  • CRN: 45606
  • F 9:00-12:30 p.m.

Billion dollar meteorological disasters are occurring at a record rate. We will explore pathways to avoid a reoccurrence of possibly climate-change linked events, which in 2013 have included: flood, famine, tornados, hurricane, drought, sea level rise, and species loss. Instead of generating electricity, this seminar will explore options to provide society’s current needs such as iron, cement, bleach fuels, clean water and plastics production using renewable energy and sustainable resources. Topics covered: how much electricity is sufficient, batteries, fuel cells, solar cells, solar thermal, solar chemical, nuclear, wind, water, and fossil fuels.

Stuart Licht is a Professor of Chemistry and former program director at the National Science Foundation. His research group at GW is working intensively to lower carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to pre-industrial levels.

Back to top

Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man

  • Professor James Miller
  • G-PAC: Humanities
  • ENGL 1000.10
  • CRN: 43928
  • MW 12:45-2:00 p.m.

We will read (and re-read) the novel widely regarded as a classic of 20th century African American and American fiction, within its historical, literary, cultural, political, and biographical contexts—and against the backdrop of Terry Eagleton's "How to Read Literature." 

James A. Miller is Professor of English and American Studies. He teaches graduate and undergraduate courses on African American literature and culture. He is the editor of Harlem: the Vision of Morgan and Marvin Smith and author of Remembering Scottsboro: The Legacy of an Infamous Trial, published by Princeton University Press. He has written and lectured on Washington D.C.’s African American community; his article, “Black Washington and the New Negro Renaissance” appeared in Composing Urban History and the Composition of Civic Identities; “The Changing Face of Shaw” appeared in Washington, D.C. at Home. In 2002 he was named the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching District of Columbia Professor of the Year.

Back to top

The Assassination of Lincoln

  • Professor Thomas Mallon
  • G-PAC: Humanities
  • ENGL 1000.12
  • CRN: 44671
  • MW 2:20-3:35 p.m.

In this seminar, students will examine the immediate historical context of Abraham Lincoln's murder, and use the assassination as a window through which to observe various aspects of 19th-century American culture. These will include theatrical taste, portrait photography, historical painting, and literary elegy. Visits to Ford's Theatre and other sites associated with Lincoln's murder will allow students to see the assassination as a part of local history. In addition, we will work at developing critical perspectives on the long-term effects of the assassination on American political psychology, including ideas about martyrdom and conspiracy. Students will write several short papers and sit for both midterm and final examinations.

Thomas Mallon, professor of English, is the author of eight books of fiction, including Henry and Clara, Bandbox, Fellow Travelers and Watergate: A Novel. He has also written volumes of nonfiction about plagiarism (Stolen Words), diaries (A Book of One’s Own), letters (Yours Ever) and the Kennedy assassination (Mrs. Paine’s Garage), as well as two books of essays (Rockets and Rodeos and In Fact). His work appears in The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, The New York Times Book Review and other publications. He received his Ph. D. in English and American Literature from Harvard University. The recipient of Guggenheim and Rockefeller fellowships, he was recently elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Back to top

Experimental Photography: From Photograms to Scanograms and Back Again

  • Professor Dean Kessmann
  • G-PAC: Arts
  • FA 1000.10
  • CRN: 46744
  • M 12:45-5:10 p.m.

This course is designed for students who have an interest in exploring a variety of low-tech ways of producing analogue photographs and generating digital images.  Students will learn to move fluidly from the chemical darkroom to the digital lab and back again.  We will analyze examples from the history of photography that extend from images captured by the earliest practitioners to work being produced today by contemporary artists.  Students will study pre-photographic imaging systems and will convert a classroom into a functioning camera obscura so that we may stand within the body of a room-sized camera to view an inverted image projected into this darkened chamber.  Classes will consist of illustrated lectures, traditional research, class discussions, group critiques, and hands-on demonstrations, as well as production time.  

Dean Kessmann has had solo exhibitions at the Orlando Museum of Art, Orlando FL, Conner Contemporary Art, Washington, DC, California State University, Chico, CA, White Flag Projects, St. Louis, MO, and Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA; his work has been shown in two and three-person exhibitions at Ellen Curlee Gallery, St. Louis, MO, School 33 Art Center, Baltimore, MD, and 1708 Gallery, Richmond, VA; and finally, he has been included in group exhibitions at The American Association for the Advancement of Science, Washington, DC, Cerasoli Gallery, Los Angeles, CA, Museum of Contemporary Religious Art, St. Louis, MO, Photographic Resource Center, Boston, MA, and Project Row Houses, Houston, TX.  Professor Kessmann’s exhibitions have been reviewed in Art Papers, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and ARTFORUM.  Work from his project, Art as Paper as Potential: Giving/Receiving, was reproduced in Contact Sheet: The Light Work Annual, along with an essay by Tim Wride, Curator of Photography, Norton Museum of Art, West Palm Beach, FL.  A catalogue was produced for the series, Plastic on Paper; Kristen Hileman, Curator of Contemporary Art at The Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore, MD, wrote the essay for this publication.  Professor Kessmann teaches photography courses at all levels, in addition to co-teaching Critical Practices. 

Back to top

Paris in the 19th Century: Art, Urbanism, and Modernity

  • Professor Masha Belenky
  • G-PAC: Humanities
  • FREN 1000.10
  • CRN: 46704
  • TR 11:10-12:25 p.m.

Paris was, in the words of the philosopher Walter Benjamin, the “capital of the nineteenth century”: a center of modern culture, social thought, fashion, and architecture.  At the same time, Paris was a site of turbulent revolutions, violent and dramatic social changes and radical urban makeovers that left long-lasting effects on the city and the nation, and helped shape what France is today. This course explores how the experience of urban modernity, in all its excitement and anxieties, was represented in novels (Balzac, Zola), poetry (Baudelaire), painting, art criticism, photography, and architecture. As we consider different modes of engagement with urban modernity in nineteenth-century Paris, we will not fail to notice their deep and lasting impact on our own urban practices.

Masha Belenky joined the George Washington University in 2001. She received her M.A. from NYU (1992), and her Ph.D. in French Literature from Columbia University (2002). Her research and teaching interests focus on nineteenth-century French literature and culture, the genre of the novel, cultural studies, urban studies and material culture.  Her first book examines the discourses on romantic jealousy in post-Revolutionary France. She is currently working on a book project tentatively titled Engines of Modernity: The Omnibus and Urban Culture in Nineteenth-Century Paris that focuses on the relationship between early mass transit and popular culture and ways in which they shaped the concept of modernity in France.

Back to top


Modern Architecture + Design

  • Professor Stephanie Travis
  • G-PAC: Not eligible
  • IAD 1000.MV
  • CRN: 47703
  • TR 1:00-2:15 p.m.

This course will introduce students to modern architecture and design through the context of small-scale key buildings of the 20th and 21st Century. Students will learn the leaders in architectural history, as well as the cutting edge contemporary designers working today. Incorporating an understanding of the architectural drawings of these unique buildings, as well as information from lectures, readings, and course discussions, this course will focus on creativity and innovation within the built environment.

Stephanie Travis is Associate Professor and Director of the Interior Design Program. She has a B.S. in Architecture and a Masters in Architecture, both from the University of Michigan. Her research focuses on the studio course in design education, freehand drawing as a tool for seeing, and modern architecture + design.

Back to top

Love, Sex, and Friendship

  • Professor Laura Papish
  • G-PAC: Humanities
  • PHIL 1000.10
  • CRN: 44625
  • TR 4:45-6:00 p.m.

Friendship, love, and sex appear widely important to human beings.  Most people - including college freshmen, of course - seem to want all of these things, and some of you might think that lacking even one of them makes for an unhappy or deficient human life.   But for as much as we spend a lot of time caring about and trying to secure love, sex, and friendship, we don’t often take the time to reflect on exactly what we are trying to secure and why we care about it so much.  Why are friends so important, and how are they different from lovers?   Why do we want lovers and friends when they cause us so much heartache and aggravation?  When you say that you love or care for a person, do you need to be able to justify your love and care?  Is there a reason why we link love and sex, and should we continue to do so? Are friendship, love, and sex morally good, or might they actually pose an ethical threat?  Through historical and contemporary readings in philosophy, and our discussions of these texts in our seminar, we will try to illuminate these questions.

Laura Papish is an assistant professor of philosophy.  She is widely interested in ethical theory, and particularly in Immanuel Kant's moral writings.  She has published articles in several areas, including Kant's moral philosophy, Aristotle, contemporary metaethics, and the philosophy of race.  In nearby possible worlds, Laura is either a veterinarian or the owner of a vintage clothing store in Boulder, Colorado.

Back to top


Constitutional Law for the 21st Century

  • Professor Jill Kasle
  • G-PAC: Social Sciences
  • PPPA 1000.10
  • CRN: 44315
  • MW 2:20-3:35 p.m.

This course analyzes and explains the American legal system, including institutions (courts and the court system), documents (the Constitution) and processes (how the Supreme Court decides a case). The course emphasizes the development of analytic skills and communicational ability and, through the use of law school teaching methods and exams, is useful for people who are curious about what law school might be like.

Jill Kasle is associate professor of public policy and public administration. She is a graduate of Northwestern University and Boston University School of Law, and has done almost everything that a lawyer can do; she has been a law clerk to a judge, a prosecutor, a defense counsel, a law school administrator and a professor of law.

Back to top

Freedom of Speech and of Religion (The First Amendment in the 21st Century)

  • Professor Jill Kasle
  • G-PAC: Social Sciences
  • PPPA 1000.11
  • CRN: 45976
  • TR 12:45-2:00 p.m.

This course will cover the guarantees of freedom of speech and freedom of religion in the First Amendment. The course emphasizes the development of analytic skills and communications ability.

Jill Kasle is associate professor of public policy and public administration. She is a graduate of Northwestern University and Boston University School of Law, and has done almost everything that a lawyer can do; she has been a law clerk to a judge, a prosecutor, a defense counsel, a law school administrator, and a professor of law.

Back to top

Politics and Culture

  • Professor Harvey Feigenbaum
  • G-PAC:
  • PSC 1000.10
  • CRN: 44579
  • T 3:30-6:00 p.m.

This is a course that examines a number of the ways that issues of culture and politics intersect. While the subject is vast, and could hardly be exhausted by a single course, the purpose of this seminar is to give the student an idea as to some of the ways in which culture affects politics and in which politics affects culture. The purpose is also to give the instructor some idea of how students see the interaction of politics and culture.

As always in a seminar, there will be no lectures. Rather, we will discuss the readings assigned each week. These readings are varied, starting with classics by Max Weber and Karl Marx, through more recent works on the clash of civilization and the politics of film. Students should have done all the assigned readings for the week before the each class begins. Requirements include a research paper on a cultural policy topic of the student's choosing.

Harvey Feigenbaum is a professor of political science and international affairs. He is also director of the Film Studies Program at GW. Feigenbaum is a specialist in comparative politics with expertise on Western Europe and France. His current research examines the political consequences of America's dominance of pop culture. In the course of this work he has been a participant observer in the film and television industries of Britain, France, Korea, Australia, and especially, Hollywood. Feigenbaum received his BA from the University of Virginia, the Diplome en Relations Internationales from Sciences Po in Paris, and received an MA and PH.D. From UCLA.

Back to top

Public Opinion and US Foreign Policy

  • Professor Rachel Stein
  • G-PAC: Social Sciences
  • PSC 1000.11
  • CRN: 44580
  • MW 11:10-12:25 p.m.

What do Americans know about U.S. foreign policy? Do they care? How do their opinions influence the foreign policy-making process, if they do at all? This course will explore how the public, the media and political leaders interact to shape U.S. foreign policy. We will consider these relationships in several different policy areas including the use of U.S. military force, international trade, foreign aid and environmental protection. The class will introduce students to established theories about public opinion and foreign policy, as well as cutting edge research. Course assignments will focus on developing students’ critical thinking skills and using evidence to assess competing arguments.

Rachel M. Stein is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science. Originally from Colorado, Professor Stein received her Ph.D. from Stanford University, where her dissertation research focused on the moral foundations of popular support for war. More broadly, her research interests include the causes of violent conflict, the domestic sources of foreign policy, and the role of moral values in shaping public opinion.

Back to top

US at War: WWII to Afghanistan

  • Professor James Lebovic
  • G-PAC: Social Sciences
  • PSC 1000.12
  • CRN: 45645
  • F 11:10-2:00 p.m.

This class is designed to help students appreciate the challenges that U.S. leaders and society encounter in war by focusing on the major conflicts in which the United States has engaged since its emergence as a global power. By examining the Second World War, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Iraq War, and the War in Afghanistan in successive weeks, the class will show that these wars were conducted at two levels: U.S. leaders were concerned both about conducting the war abroad and keeping the U.S. public committed to the war effort. Readings and class discussions will focus, then, on the external dimension of these wars – their origins, U.S. wartime strategy, and the outcomes – and their internal dimensions – public support and perceptions of these conflicts. To give students a better understanding of the societal aspects of these conflicts, the discussion of each war will be paired with a movie (or two) that captures the public sentiment of the period and a trip to a relevant memorial or museum in Washington, DC.

James H. Lebovic is professor of Political Science and International Affairs at The George Washington University. He teaches undergraduate and graduate classes on political methodology and national and international security. He has published widely on defense policy, deterrence strategy, military budgets and procurement, democracy and human rights, and international conflict. He is the author of four books including Deterring International Terrorism and Rogue States: US National Security Policy after 9/11 (Routledge, 2007) and The Limits of US Military Capability: Lessons from Vietnam and Iraq (John Hopkins University, 2010). He has just completed a book on the United States and strategic nuclear arms control.

Back to top

Designing Classical Ballet

  • Professor Tanya Wetenhall
  • G-PAC: Arts
  • TRDA 1000.10
  • CRN: 47582
  • W 5:10-7:00 p.m.

Designing Classical Ballet surveys the history of ballet costume and stage design through the in-depth examination of 10 influential ballets, beginning with the court ballets of the French Kings, the Ballet comique de la Reine, extending through to ballets of 19th century imperial Russia, such as Swan Lake, and into the 20th century, with the controversial works of The Ballets Russes and their riot-invoking ballet The Rite of Spring. Beyond the examination of single ballets, we will also consider historical and social contexts, such as changes in theatre production technology, the role ballet played in court and social settings and ballet as a form of cultural diplomacy. Students will also reflect on ballet as an instrument of the state through analyzing the Soviet-themed ballets of choreographer Yuri Grigorovich, designed by Simon Virsaladze, and ballets designed and staged in post World-War II Britain, such as The Royal Ballet’s The Sleeping Beauty, designed by Oliver Messel. A portion of this seminar will be devoted to studying famous visual artists who designed for the stage, such as Inigo Jones, Pablo Picasso, and Marc Chagall. Students will study not only their creative processes, but also how the diverse cultural perspectives of their times affected the shared theatrical experience of “going to the ballet.”

Tanya Wetenhall is an assistant professor of design. Her career spans the performing arts, costume studies, museums and diplomacy. She has managed U.S. tours of foreign dance companies, as well as individual artists touring Europe; directed fashion shows; worked as a cultural liaison for special interest groups visiting Russia, Central Asia and Eastern Europe; and was a specialist for the government of the United States at the U.S. embassies in Moscow and Rome. Her recent projects include researching and designing museum exhibitions pertaining to costume history, design and the performing arts, in the U.S. and abroad, as well as consulting for museums. Wetenhall holds an MA in Fashion and Textile Studies from the Fashion Institute of Technology (SUNY) and has taught in FIT’s graduate program and in the graduate costume studies program at New York University. She has developed and taught courses on period styles, the history of the performing and visual arts of Russia, ballet history, and has lectured and written on elements of Russian costume.

Back to top