Dean's Seminars


Students participating in a class discussion


Dean’s Seminars provide Columbian College first years 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.


Sarah Abramsky GW Columbian College Dean's Seminar dance

Sarah Abramsky

BA '18, Psychology

"My favorite class was Great Performances in Dance with Dana Tai Soon Burgess. We went to dance performances around D.C. I love how he connected class and the real world."

Spring 2019 Dean's Seminars

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

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

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. Our syllabus will range across the humanities and social sciences, encompassing, to cite a few examples, the writings of Karl Marx, the films of George Romero, and the genre of the Zombie Survival Guide. Students will be expected to view a total of 11 films outside of class, to read an average of 2 articles or essays per week as well as 1 novel, to contribute to a class blog each week, to give 2 oral presentations in class during the semester, and to write a final paper.

  • Professor Chad Heap
  • AMST 1000.12
  • G-PAC: Humanities
  • The sexual assault accusations against U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh; the allegations of sexual misconduct that led to the resignations of U.S. Senator Al Franken and U.S. Congressmen Tim Murphy, John Conyers Jr., and Trent Franks; and the release of a videotape of Donald Trump’s lewd conversation about women with Access Hollywood host Billy Bush: These are but a few of the sex scandals that have preoccupied Washington during the past couple years. Yet, no matter how contemporary such topics might seem, they are but the latest in a long history of sexual controversies in Washington and in the federal government, dating back to the earliest years of the Republic. Focusing on several such scandals in the recent and more distant past, this seminar will ask what these incidents can tell us about Americans’ changing attitudes toward sex and sexuality. We will also explore the insights these scandals provide into 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. Registration restricted to CCAS freshmen.
  • Professor Marshall Alcorn
  • ENGL 1000.13
  • G-PAC: Humanities

This course will examine: first, trauma as a condition of culture, as an adaptive cognitive style, and as a cognitive challenge, and second trauma, as both a personal and a collective witnessing of war, genocide, slavery and other natural disasters.. Attention is given to the historical development of the concept, the debates in psychiatry and psychology about the concept, and the literary use of the concept. Representative authors include Arundhati Roy, Pat Barker, Tim O’Brien, Virginia Woolf, Art Spiegelman. An historical emphasis is given to literature from 1020 to present.

  • Professor Jane Shore
  • ENGL 1000.16
  • G-PAC: Arts

In this course we will focus on several modern and contemporary poets, who may include Elizabeth Bishop, Sharon Olds and another poet to be announced. After reading a volume by each of them, students will analyze and discuss the poet’s work in class and then write their own poems by imitating that poet’s style—paying attention to syntax, subject matter, imagery, patterning, and music. The class will then “workshop” these new poems. Students are encouraged to subvert, refute, and play off the originals. Craft may be teachable, but vision isn’t; even so, one can “Learn to write” in the way that painters of the past learned to paint—by apprenticing themselves to master painters. As they gain this invaluable learn-by-doing experience, students will also hone their critical skills and come to understand the way poems work from the inside out.

  • Professor Kathryn Kleppinger
  • FREN 1000
  • G-PAC: Humanities
  • G-PAC: Oral Communication

What can we learn about a society based on the cultural production that comes under fire? Through a comparative study of banned or controversial books and poetry in the United States, we will consider the various subject matter(s) that have caused debate and discussion about what is appropriate for citizens to read. What sorts of standards are cited in debates over these works, and how do France and the US differ in selections of works to censor?

  • Professor Jessica Krug
  • HIST 1000.11
  • G-PAC:

Perhaps no region of the world so iconically represents the dual meanings of movement – migration and dynamic popular dance cultures – as the Caribbean.  In this seminar, we will explore the historical and contemporary relationship between the political, social, and cultural histories of migration to and from the Caribbean over the past 500 years and the development, transformation, and flows of Caribbean popular dance cultures.  We will ask how can popular dance be a source for history, and how do other types of history inform our reading of popular dance.  We will interrogate ways that popular dance has been used to forge ethnic, regional, national, racial, and diasporic identities, and trouble the purposes to which these identities have been marshalled.  Not only will we critically engage scholarship about and videos of dance performance, but we will also attend performances and ourselves learn the rudiments of various Caribbean and Caribbean Diasporic popular dance forms, including bomba, Jonkonnu, Garifuna dances, dancehall, salsa, merengue, bachata, dembow, and reggaeton.  At the end of the semester, students will both produce an original research paper and also choreograph and produce and original dance performance.

  • Professor Daina Eglitis
  • SOC 1000.10
  • G-PACs: Social Science 
  • G-PAC: Civic/Local Engagement

Our nation's capital, Washington, DC, is home to policy makers, presidents, entrepreneurs, and executives. It features museums, posh office buildings, and historical homes. Washington, DC, is also a site of deeply impoverished communities, troubled public schools, and public health crises that include high levels of violence and the country's highest urban rate of HIV/AIDS. How have communities of wealth and poverty come to exist in this urban space? What are the causes and consequences of social, economic, and racial stratification in Washington, DC? What can be done to address inequality in the nation's capital? The course introduces students to issues of class, gender, race, and inequality in their city and to sociological perspectives on these issues. Students will explore the roots of social problems and work together to creatively imagine avenues for social change.

  • Professor Francys Subiaul
  • SPHR 1000
  • G-PAC: Social Science
  • Dean’s Seminars provide Columbian College first-year students focused scholarship on specific intellectual challenges. Topics vary by semester; see department for more details. This course will specifically explore the theories that seek to explain different aspects of the evolution of distinctively human traits including, moral reasoning, religious belief and language.
  • Professor Hiromi Ishizawa
  • SOC 1000
  • G-PAC: Social Science
  • This course provides an introduction to the field of immigration studies with a strong emphasis on cities that receive immigrants. The aim is for students to understand theoretical and policy debates surrounding immigration in contemporary America. This course begins with an overview of historical patterns of immigration, especially changes in the demographics of immigration and contexts of reception immigrants face upon arrival. We next focus on immigration theory and immigration policy, how contemporary immigrants impact cities in the United States, such as patterns of residential settlement, and then examine how contemporary immigrants impact urban planning and public policies. This course also gives students an opportunity to explore sociological research set in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area.


Dean's Seminar Highlights