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.

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


Fall 2017

Washington Sex Scandals

  • Professor Chad Heap
  • AMST 1000.10
  • G-PAC: Humanities

The release of a videotape of Donald Trump’s lewd conversation about women with Access Hollywood host Billy Bush, Trump’s attempts to revisit the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky affair during the recent presidential campaign, and Congressman Anthony Weiner’s sexually suggestive tweets: These are but a few of the sex scandals that have preoccupied Washington during the past couple years. This course explores the insights these scandals provide a number of broader historical transformations in American culture and politics, including the shifting contours of American citizenship and the definition of the nation, the shaping of political ideologies and party warfare, the emergence of mass media and its effects on molding public opinion, and the reconfiguration of the boundary between public and private in American life.

Chad Heap is an Associate Professor of American Studies and Undergraduate Advisor of the Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program.

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Zombie Capitalism

  • Professor Dara Orenstein
  • G-PAC: Humanities and Oral Communication
  • AMST 1000.11

The Walking Dead. World War Z. “Obama Zombies.” 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 track the figure of the zombie from the Gilded Age to the crash of 2008, and from the sugar plantations of Depression-era Haiti and Louisiana to the tents of Zuccotti Park, drawing on readings from across the humanities and social sciences.

Dara Orenstein is an associate professor of American Studies, whose research and teaching interests focus on the histories of capitalism and photography, as well as critical geography and cultural & social theory. She received her Ph.D. in American Studies from Yale University in 2012.

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Substances and Society

  • Professor Hugh Gusterson
  • GPAC: Social Science and Cross-Cultural
  • ANTH 1000.10

This class examines the relationship between a number of mind-altering substances and cultural processes.  The relationship between drugs and such phenomena as poverty, religion, technology, inter-generational conflict, colonialism, and global capitalism is analyzed.  Students will learn about the physiological and psychological effects of these substances -- ranging from alcohol to LSD, cocaine, and Viagra -- and ask why different societies prohibit and sanction different drugs.  Students will study the use of mind-altering substances in a number of "traditional" societies, and follow the development of a global trade in such substances as sugar, coffee, tea, nicotine, cocaine, and marijuana concurrent with the evolution of global capitalism as well as the use of LSD as a mind-control substance by the CIA and as a mind-altering substance in the 1960's counter-culture.  Finally, the class examines the rise of Prozac, Ritalin, Viagra, and opioids as pharmaceutical products in recent years concurrent with the hardening of America's drug laws.

Hugh Gusterson is a professor of International Affairs and Anthropology.

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Jane Austen

  • Professor Tara Wallace
  • ENGL 1000.10
  • GPAC: Humanities, Oral Communication

Jane Austen’s celebrity has transcended the academic world and has become a part of popular culture.  Her six completed novels have spawned sequels, ‘mash-ups’, and hundreds of books and articles, as well as movies, television series, and novels based on her novels.  What is the source of such popular appeal?  Does Austen’s own small body of work provide answers to the extraordinary proliferation of imitations, merchandise, fan clubs, blogs?  In this course, we will consider the Austen phenomenon by discussing the work of an author who described her own output as ‘the little bit (two inches wide) of ivory in which I work’ and the massive scholarly and popular production engendered by that output.

Tara Wallace is a professor of English.

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What's New about New Plays

  • Professor Evelyn Schreiber
  • ENGL 1000.11
  • GPAC Humanities

This Dean’s seminar takes advantage of the theater offerings in Washington and asks the question:  What is new about new plays?  Are contemporary playwrights reworking classical themes or are their works entirely new entities?  What themes reappear and how are they presented?  The course also considers how classical plays are re-imagined for modern audiences.  For example, is a Shakespearean work staged in a different political or social milieu than the original production?  Why would directors make these types of artistic decisions?  What does it mean for plays to be culturally relevant?  Students will consider who attends the theater and who will be in the audience in the future.  These questions form a large part of decisions about what plays are selected to be produced each year and the nature of those productions.  We will read at least three classical plays and three new plays as well as attend two new plays.

Plays we will read, discuss, and act out scenes from:  Oedipus the King by Sophocles, Oedipus El Rey by Luis Alfaro, At Home at the Zoo by Edward Albee, Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett, Othello by William Shakespeare, A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry, Clybourne Park by Bruce Norris, Appropriate by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof by Tennessee Williams.

Evelyn Jaffe Schreiber, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor of English at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C. Her first book, Subversive Voices: Eroticizing the Other in William Faulkner and Toni Morrison, examines identity and race via the theory of Jacques Lacan and cultural studies and was awarded the Toni Morrison Society book prize, 2003. Her second book, Race, Trauma, and Home in the Novels of Toni Morrison, is an interdisciplinary study of trauma in Morrison’s fiction and was published in 2010 and was awarded the Toni Morrison Society book prize, 2012. Her articles appear in Mississippi Quarterly; The Faulkner Journal; Literature & Psychology; Style; and Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts, and she has contributed chapters to Blackwell’s Companion to Faulkner; Teaching Faulkner: Approaches and Methods; A Gathering of Evidence: Essays on William Faulkner’s Intruder in the Dust; Memory and Meaning: Essays in Honour of Toni Morrison; and Toni Morrison: Paradise, Love, and A Mercy.

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Fairy Tale from Grimm's to Disney

  • Professor Jean Freedman
  • GER 1000.10
  • GPAC Humanities, Global/Cross-Cultural, Oral Communication

For centuries folktales and fairy tales have fueled the popular imagination of children and adults. As an art form and communicative practice, however, the folktale and fairy tale have undergone radical transformations in form, style, structure, and meaning. Beginning with the work of nineteenth-century European collectors and editors and concluding with twentieth-century Anglo-American critics, authors, and filmmakers, this course examines the socio-historical development of folktales and fairytales in their traditional contexts as well as in modern transformations and critical re-readings.

Jean Freedman is a professor of German Language and Literature.

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Modern Architecture and Design

  • Professor Stephanie Travis
  • G-PAC: Art and Global/Cross-Cultural
  • IA 1000.10

This course will introduce students to the history of modern architecture and design through the context of key buildings of the 20th/21st Century. Students will learn the leaders in architectural history, as well as innovative contemporary designers working today. Through lectures, readings, and discussions, an overview of the architecture, interiors, and furniture of the most significant and unique buildings in history will be explored and examined. By merging conceptual thinking, design thinking, and critical thinking in combination with history, this course will incorporate a complete exploration of modern architecture and design.

Stephanie Travis is an Associate Professor and Director of Interior Architecture at GW. Stephanie received her Master of Architecture with distinction and Bachelor of Science in Architecture from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Prior to GW, Stephanie worked in New York City as an architect. At GW, she focuses on studio courses in architectural design as well as sketching and history of modern architecture. Stephanie has published articles and presented at national and international design conferences on these topics. Her book, Sketching for Architecture + Interior Design (Laurence King, 2015), is published in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Korean (with Chinese and Russian forthcoming).

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Public Opinion and Foreign Policy

  • Professor Rachel Stein
  • G-PAC: Social Science
  • PSC 1000.10

What do Americans know about U.S. foreign policy? And 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, and the environment.

Rachel Stein is an assistant professor of Political Science.

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Conflict and Commerce

  • Professor Yonatan Lupu
  • PSC 1000.11

This course introduces students to the relationship between international commerce and international conflict. Throughout the semester, the course will cover theories of international economic exchange, theories of war, and, in more detail, theories and empirical evidence regarding the relationship between the two. These ideas are examined using World War I as a case study

Yonatan Lupu is an assistant professor of Political Science.

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Science in the District

  • Professor Stephen Mitroff
  • G-PAC: Social Science
  • PSYC 1000.10

Academic theories are the foundation of research, and often theories can be best understood and tested when viewed in practice. Applying theories in the “real-world” can advance scientific thought, can improve everyday activities, can inform policies for highly important occupations, and, most simply, can be fun. In this course, we will explore the interplay between theory and practice by examining how cognitive psychology theories can be applied to real-world problems that arise both locally and globally. Luckily, here in Washington DC, we have access to agencies and institutions that play a major role in policy, and we can directly examine how cognitive psychology principles can be implemented to aid their efforts. For example, the core ideas of cognitive psychology (e.g., perception, attention, memory, language, decision-making) underlie practices at the Department of Transportation, National Institutes of Health, Transportation Security Administration, Department of Homeland Security, Federal Drug Administration, National Rehabilitation Hospital, and more.  We will discuss basic cognitive psychology principles, real-world instantiations of the principles, and the interplay between the two. We will visit several DC institutions to see the implementations in action.

Stephen Mitroff is an associate professor of psychology who joined George Washington in 2015 after spending the prior ten years at Duke University. His research combines basic science and translational applications to advance both academic theory and real-world practices. For example, he has worked with the Transportation Security Administration to inform theories of visual search (how we find targets in a visual display) and to improve national security. Dr. Mitroff has been funded by the US Army, the Department of Homeland Security, the Transportation Security Administration, DARPA, NIH, and Nike. He has also served as a Sports Vision and Performance Advisor to Nike and is on the advisory board for Senaptec LLC, a start-up focused on assessing and training vision performance.

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Hollywood and Politics

  • Professor Patricia Phalen
  • SMPA 1000.10
  • GPAC: Social Science

In the 1950s, Senator McCarthy had film and television writers with the “wrong” political views blacklisted in Hollywood. Fifty years later, Michael Moore produced a film that attacked President Bush for having the “wrong” politics. These are just two of the more obvious connections between the world of Hollywood and the world of Washington, D.C. Pop culture and political culture in the United States share a long and complex relationship. Congress convenes hearings to uncover anti-American sentiment in the media. Actors run for and win, political office. Celebrity endorsements or condemnations affect national elections. In this course, we will explore the history and political effects of these connections. Students will study the personalities, organizations, products, and principles of political and pop culture and assess the benefits and costs of their symbiotic relationship.

Patricia Phalen is an Associate Professor in the School of Media and Public Affairs. She has a Master's and Ph.D. in Radio/Television/Film from Northwestern University, and an MBA from Boston College. Her research focuses on the socioeconomics of mass media organizations, particularly the relationship between media and audiences. She is the co-author of The Mass Audience: Rediscovering the Dominant Model and Ratings Analysis: The Theory and Practice of Audience Research.

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Poverty, Place, and Race

  • Professor Gregory Squires
  • SOC 1000.10
  • GPAC: Social Science

The primary objective of this course is to increase students’ understanding of the nature of poverty and racial inequality in the U.S., particularly within urban communities.  The course will draw from a variety of disciplines including sociology, economics, political science, history, and urban planning.  It will consist of a range of activities including classroom discussions, student presentations, films, policy papers, and more.  Most importantly, the seminar will actively engage all participants in their learning.

Gregory Squires is a professor of Sociology and Public Policy & Public Administration.

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Global Dress and Culture

  • Professor Tanya Wetenhall
  • GPAC: Arts, Oral Communication, and Global/Cross-Cultural
  • TRDA 1000.10

Global Dress and Culture examines a selection of dress customs in the context of historical urban, nomadic and rural groups, such as the Chinese court’s cultivation and use of silk in dress and subsequent trade in markets along the Silk Road; the urban communities of Ghana, where masterful strip-weaving techniques evolved into the prestigious Kente cloth that inspires some current global dress practices and artists alike; and the indigenous communities of Brazil, where dress is often comprised of body adornment and modification through the application of body paint and lip discs. Discussions centering on historical and contemporary dress practices, trade, geography and textile production will enrich our studies. Lectures are supplemented with guest speakers, local collection visits and the opening of The Textile Museum at The George Washington University.

Tanya Wetenhall is an Assistant Professor of Design. Her career spans the performing arts, costume studies, museums, and diplomacy. She has managed US 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 US embassies in Moscow and Rome.


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