Dean's Seminars

Stephanie Travis' (foreground) in class with freshmen (left to right) Jamie Oakley, Jason Katz, Bailee Weisz and Kimmie Krane

Dean’s Seminars provide Columbian College first-year students with focused scholarship that emphasizes lively discussions on topics relevant to the issues of our time. Sometimes edgy and always engaging, the seminars provide students one-of-a-kind opportunities that challenge the mind and often tap into emerging interests.

First-year Columbian College students can register for Dean's Seminars through the GWeb Information System.

Albert Cramer





"A memorable experience was when Professor Dane Kennedy took us to the Library of Congress for our Dean's Seminar class on empires. The maps and artifacts gave a visual history that one cannot get out of a textbook."

Albert Cramer
BA '12, History

Spring 2024 Dean's Seminars

For the dates and times that these courses meet, please review the Schedule of Classes.

Entertainment Nation
  • Professor S. Silver
  • AMST 1000.10
  • GPAC: Critical Thinking in the Humanities

In 2023, the Smithsonian National Museum of American History unveiled its new exhibit “Entertainment Nation,” just blocks from GW’s campus. This seminar invites students to engage critically with this exhibit, which includes artifacts from Dorothy’s ruby slippers to Ali Wong’s “Baby Cobra” dress, covering a wide range of entertainment forms in theater, television, film, music, stand-up comedy, and sports. We will examine how history is written, how historians present their ideas to the public, and how the arrangement of those ideas and artifacts make an argument. Students who are fans of music, comedy, and television will be introduced to scholarship on these topics, as we learn to think critically about the role entertainment has played in U.S. history, engaging in questions of empire, citizenship, and national identity. This seminar will introduce students to some of the major questions in American Studies—How can we think globally about “American” history? What is the relationship between the individual and the popular? How does media technology shape popular culture? What are the politics of spectatorship and display? How have U.S. entertainment cultures perpetuated white supremacy and racial subjugation? And, in contrast, how have racialized performers mobilized entertainment to demand freedom? In analyzing the exhibit’s contents and interpretation, we will examine how studies in LGBT/queer history, Black history, Latine history, and Indigenous histories have shaped the exhibit, while engaging theories in media studies, performance studies, popular music studies, and public history to interpret U.S. entertainment cultures.

Zombie Capitalism
  • Professor D. Orenstein
  • AMST 1000.11
  • GPAC: Critical Thinking in the Humanities
  • GPAC: Oral Communication

The Walking Dead. World War Z. “Zombie Banks.” Why does the specter of the living dead loom so largely in contemporary U.S. culture? How is it useful? What does it illuminate about the relationship between capitalism and democracy that might otherwise remain inscrutable? And how has it served in this allegorical manner throughout modern U.S. history? How did it haunt the rise of mass production, or the growth of suburbs, or the eruption of a social movement like Occupy Wall Street? To answer such questions, in this seminar we will screen one film per week, supplemented by brief readings in primary sources, to track the figure of the zombie from the Great Depression to the Great Recession (or, now, the Great Depression 2.0), and from the sugar plantations of Haiti to the tents of Zuccotti Park and the COVID-19 morgues of Detroit.

  • Professor J. Shore
  • ENGL 1000.10
  • GPAC: Creative Thinking in the Arts

Poet Robert Lowell writes in his Imitations introduction: “Boris Pasternak has said that the usual reliable translator gets the literal meaning but misses the tone, and that in poetry tone is of course everything. I have been reckless with literal meaning, and labored hard to get the tone. Most often this has been a tone, for the tone is something that will always more or less escape transference to another language and cultural moment…I believe that poetic translation—I would call it an imitation—must be expert and inspired, and needs at least as much technique, luck and rightness of hand as the original poem.…I have been almost as free as the authors themselves in finding ways to make them ring right for me.”

This course is designed as a reading and writing workshop. Weekly, we will be close-reading a variety of modern and contemporary poems, and after analyzing how these poems work, you will write your own “imitation” of it, and then, as a class, we’ll “workshop” your “imitation.” Your poem should be accompanied by a two-page prose explanation (a gloss) in which you compare your poem and the original, making note of, among other things, the tone, syntax, language choices, patterning, music, and voice of the original. You are, of course, encouraged to subvert, refute, and play off the poem you choose to imitate, which may include odes, elegies, and persona poems, and other traditional verse forms.

Folklore, Politics & Social Change
  • GER 1000.10
  • GPAC: Critical Thinking in the Humanities
  • GPAC: Global or Cross-Cultural Perspective

Folklore – broadly defined as traditional, vernacular, or unofficial culture – has had extensive influence on political thought and human experience for centuries. This class explores folklore concepts, genres, and methods by studying specific historical eras in which folklore forms, such as songs and stories, took on political significance and effected social change. The class focuses on Germany and the United States: two places where folklore has had importance both as a concept and as a field of study. We will look at the similarities and differences between the use of folklore in Germany and the US, and we will examine the ways in which folklore continues to be used politically in the present. The class will be taught entirely in English.

Dean's Seminar Highlights