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

Fall 2022 Dean's Seminars

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

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.

Cities and Societies
  • Professor M. DeMaio
  • ANTH 1000.10
  • GPAC: Critical Thinking, Quantitative Reasoning or Scientific Reasoning in the Social Sciences
  • GPAC: Global or Cross-Cultural Perspectives

What does it mean to live in a city? How do urban spaces shape the people who live in them and vice versa? Why do cities inspire our loyalties and capture our imaginations? Writing in 1938, the prominent urban sociologist Louis Wirth remarked that the aggregation of humans into cities is the “distinctive feature of the mode of living of man in the modern age.” For anthropology, a discipline dedicated to the study of the human condition, it would take several decades after Wirth’s assertion for the city to be seen as an appropriate site of study. In this class, we will encounter a wide range of topics, themes and concepts that have emerged as anthropologists have turned their attention to the city. Our course includes texts that will invite us to analyze the relationship between race and food access in Washington, DC, the intersections of politics and infrastructure in Beirut, Lebanon, the effects of rural-urban migration on social relations in the African Copperbelt and the experiences of urban refugees in the Middle East. Furthermore, we will consider how the acceleration of global connection and circulation are reshaping the built environment of cities and the lifestyles of their residents. As a student in this course, you will have the chance to put the methods and concepts we will study into practice, using ethnographic observation, archival research and mapping techniques to study a discrete city space. In doing so, we will ask and try to answer the questions: What is a city? How can we study cities? And what is distinctive about life in urban spaces?

Dogs Are People, Too: Domestication & Animals in Society
  • Professor C. Sexton
  • ANTH 1000.11
  • GPAC: Critical Thinking in the Humanities
  • GPAC: Global or Cross-Cultural Perspectives

What is personhood and should humans recognize it in other animals? How does our species' biological and cultural evolution intersect with and influence life histories of other animals, and how do they influence ours? Using the dog-human relationship as a primary model for investigation, this course will be an exploration of inter- and intraspecies relationships that may open a window to developing a fuller picture of the human condition. Our course of study will be grounded in an evolutionary perspective drawing on materials from the fields of biological anthropology, psychology, ethics, animal behavior, and neuroscience. Topics for discussion include social development, cultural perspectives on non-human animals, “othering” as a form of marginalization, animal ethics through a neuroscientific lens, cognizance and personhood, and One Health initiatives. We will also cover topics based on student interests.

The success of this seminar-style course will require active and engaged participation from all members of the class. Additionally, throughout the semester, we will be thinking both critically and creatively about pop-science and current news media relevant to the themes of the course, and reviewing how facts and information about dogs and other animals are represented to various audiences.

The Social Co-Production of Pandemics: Science, Policy, and Media
  • Professor J. Benavides-Rawson 
  • ANTH 1000.12
  • GPAC: Critical Thinking, Quantitative Reasoning or Scientific Reasoning in the Social Sciences
  • GPAC: Global or Cross-Cultural Perspectives

How do we know what we know about pandemics and epidemics? How do we collect scientific data to produce consistent and applicable public health policies? What impact does news coverage about pandemics have on policy choices and scientific endeavors? We will analyze these questions in our course while exploring how knowledge about our world is inseparable from the way we live in it. Particularly, how we simultaneously produce knowledge about COVID-19 and experience it as the lived reality of our times. We will investigate who produces scientific knowledge and how scientific authority is located. We will explore how scientific research informs policy makers, and how policy responds to societal pressures channeled through mass media. Finally, we will engage in critical analysis of current and past journalistic and social media practices, and how they affect our daily lives, our understanding of the world, of science, and of life in a pandemic. We start this journey in the past, looking at the history of pandemics, of media, and of the healthcare system of the United States. We then engage with different theoretical frameworks from the social sciences that will guide our analysis of the present, including medical anthropology, science and technology studies, public health, political economy, and media studies. We will use ethnographic and archival data, as well as scholarly sources, to investigate the complexities of the COVID-19 pandemic and the information and disinformation that are in constant production and circulation. This research will lead the participants of this class to the formulation of their own critical analysis of knowledge in-the-making during a pandemic and the crafting of their own scholarly work.

Arab Comics and Culture
  • Professor E. Oraby
  • ARAB 1000.10

Would you like to meet Arab Superheroes? To travel all the way from Beirut to Cairo to Guantanamo Bay through impactful and artful comics? Would you like to learn the skills to make your very own revolutionary comic? or perhaps express your artistic vision through the comics medium? This course offers an adventure into Arab popular visual culture. We will explore questions as: What makes a comic? How do Arab artists utilize comics to complicate social and political issues in their lives? How does the art of comics intersect with contemporary internet activism and social movements? What does it mean to live in the Arab world today?

The readings of the course will include Arab comics and graphic novels by artists from the gulf to the Atlantic Ocean. The topics aim to discover how contemporary Arab artist respond to social and political issues including war, feminism, gender issues, authoritarian governments, imprisonment, displacement and immigration. In addition to Arab comics, we will overview readings in contemporary comics studies. By the end of the course students will have learned how to read, interpret, and create different comic-art forms.

Global Biodiversity
  • Professor R. Pyron
  • BISC 1000
  • GPAC: Critical Thinking, Quantitative Reasoning or Scientific Reasoning in the Social Sciences
  • GPAC: Global or Cross-Cultural Perspectives
  • GPAC: Oral Communication

This course is a survey of the historical roots of global biodiversity, and the facets of ongoing global change that represent challenges for conservation. What is the history of life on Earth? What major episodes of diversification and extinction have led to the species that we see today? What ecological  and evolutionary forces lead to speciation and adaptive radiation? What caused extinctions in the past, and what new drivers are causing extinction in the present day? What evolutionary processes do we observe in real time in cities? What current and future challenges exist for biodiversity conservation?


Art & Politics
  • Professor L. Matheny
  • CAH 1000.10
  • GPAC: Creative or Critical Thinking in the Arts

At the heart of this class is the deceptively simple question, “Is all art political?” From this central query, we will explore others: Can art spark political change? Does it have a moral obligation to do so? Should art provide a respite from politics? Is there a line between art and activism? Between art and propaganda? Between art and reportage?

Among the lenses through which we will study this subject are portraiture, photography, language and conceptual art, public art, monuments, abstraction, government sponsorship, and museums. Using these organizing categories, we will discover how artists from the early 20th century to the present have responded to a range of issues, including war, immigration, identity politics, climate change, feminism, racism, health policy, and economic justice. Examples of topics covered include cultural policy in Nazi Germany, the use of abstract art as a strategic tool of the Cold War, artistic responses to the Vietnam War, the creation of the AIDS memorial quilt, artistic attempts to humanize the migration crisis, and visual artists’ painful and poignant grappling with the reality of police brutality. Special effort will be made to incorporate discussion of art seen in Washington, DC, museums and other spaces throughout the city.

Unreasonable Doubt: The history and politics of anti-science from the Scopes trial to today.
  • Professor H. Thorp
  • CHEM 1000.10
  • GPAC: Critical Thinking in the Humanities

The covid pandemic has revealed more widely the methods with which forces that seek to deny science operate.  Some of these events have taken the world of science by surprise, with even NIH Director Francis Collins proclaiming in response to what he could have done better on covid, "I wish we had studied more carefully the problem of hesitancy." In reality, social scientists and historians have been studying these problems for decades and predicted the denial of science that has occurred during covid and recent related episodes.  Nevertheless, science curricula have not emphasized these topics in undergraduate education, leading to a generation of scientists that is unaware of the modern history of science and how it informs uptake of scientific information by the public.  This course seeks to address this problem by examining the history of science and science denial through the lens of a scientist.

Modern Architecture & Design
  • Professor S. Travis
  • CIAR 1000.10
  • GPAC: Creative or Critical Thinking in the Arts
  • GPAC: Global or Cross-Cultural Perspectives

This course will introduce students to the history of modern architecture and design through the context of key buildings of the 20th/21stCentury.  Students will learn the leaders in architectural history, as well as innovative contemporary designers working today.  Through lectures, readings, field trips, films, 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.

Imagining Better Social Media
  • Professor D. Sude
  • COMM 1000.10
  • GPAC: Critical Thinking, Quantitative Reasoning or Scientific Reasoning in the Social Sciences

What is your experience of social media? How could it be improved? This Dean’s Seminar puts you in the driver’s seat, culminating in a mock proposal to your favorite social media company as to how to improve their platform. You will look at social media through the lenses of your personal experience, academic scholarship, industry practice, and government policy. You will be encouraged to reflect on your own experience and to understand what is unique versus common about your personal experience on social media. Topics of study include entertainment, physical and mental health, social conflict, politics, misinformation, and marketing.

As a Dean’s Seminar, this seminar-style class encourages active engagement in discussion and debate about social media. Accompanying the discussion, this course asks you to write several short papers. Each paper is designed to build on the previous paper, culminating in your final proposal. You will receive plenty of feedback and opportunities to produce your best work. These papers fulfill the criteria for the GPAC “Critical Thinking” designation. Students will analyze and critique scholarly arguments and evidence; apply scholarly theories and concepts to their own experience on social media; and formulate arguments based on scholarly research.

Dance Cultures of the Silk Road
  • Professor L. Gray
  • CTAD 1000.10
  • GPAC: Creative or Critical Thinking in the Arts
  • GPAC: Global or Cross-Cultural Perspectives

This course considers the significant role of dance in various Silk Road cultures, as a shared human experience, a means of communicating societal values, and a reflection of ethnic and national identity. Contributions of dance artists and ensembles from various traditions will be contextualized by major historical events, such as political upheaval, the impact of colonialism, changing attitudes toward gender, and the evolution of national "branding."

Topics include the multi-faceted role of dance in various Silk Road cultures and the connections which developed through commerce, conflict, and cultural exchange.   Lectures introduce students to the folk, classical, and court dances of India, Persia/Iran, Korea and China, as well as those of the Turkic peoples of Central Asia, such as Uzbeks and Uyghurs. Course examines dance with relation to spiritual expression, healing,  entertainment, propaganda, gender roles, and ethnic/national identity. Modern trends of globalization and cultural appropriation are also discussed. Dance performance essays, as well as movement exploration sessions, familiarize students with the distinct nuances and physicality of different Silk Road dance styles.

Global Dress and Culture
  • Professor T. Wetenhall
  • CTAD 1000.11
  • GPAC: Creative or Critical Thinking in the Arts
  • GPAC: Global or Cross-Cultural Perspectives
  • GPAC: Oral Communication

'Global Dress and Culture' illuminates the relationship between dress and humans as social, biological and aesthetic creatures. Dress, which includes clothing, costume, fashion, bodily modification and adornment, is introduced as material and visual culture and is approached through multidisciplinary perspectives. Students first learn Eicher and Evenson's culturally sensitive classification system to analyse dress and how dress and textiles reflect local and global economies and trade, exhibit customs and ideologies, and how as a social construct dress signifies status. Students also investigate the primary fibers, dyestuffs, and textiles used in creating dress; engage with circulating discourses in cultural appropriation and authentication in practice and design; and consider how archives and museums incorporate and preserve dress in their collections. The agency of dress as stage costume and as fashion; the illustration of dress in historical media and emerging visual technologies; the performativity of dress as a form of social action and expression of humankind's continuous migration, intellectual interchange, and condition are also explored.

Through visits to GW's Textile Museum collections for hands-on discovery sessions in the Textile 101 Lab, GW's Cotsen Textile Traces Study Collection, GW's Avenir Foundation Conservation and Collections Resource Center in Ashburn, VA (please prepare to reserve some hours outside of normal class time for this trip), the Estelle and Melvin Gelman Library, and other cultural institutions, students are introduced to resources and renowned research centers of the University and DC. Assignments introduce research skills and methods for the creative arts and humanities. 'Global Dress and Culture' fulfills GPAC with CCAS: Arts, Oral Communication, Global, and Cross-Cultural perspective course attributes.

Fashion Statements
  • Professor S. Johannesdottir
  • CTAD 1000.12
  • GPAC: Creative or Critical Thinking in the Arts
  • GPAC: Global or Cross-Cultural Perspectives
  • GPAC: Oral Communication

This G-PAC course will focus on creative thinking, cross cultural perspective, and oral communication. It is designed for students who want to examine the visual narrative that is told by the clothing selected and worn both in society and as reflected in the arts, particularly costume design for film and live performance. When we dress, we send messages about who we are, where we come from, our ideology, political views, favorite music, and social status to name a few. Using primary source material (artwork, films, etc.) this class will examine the relationship between fashion and costume design through lecture, research, discussion, and creative development. Students will develop a foundational understanding of the use of clothing to provide visual narrative by exploring the questions of the global demographic, cultural, gender, societal, ethnic, and practical motivations that have influenced clothing design throughout history. The role of fashion designers on clothing trends will be explored. This historical review will be supplemented with an investigation of the effects of color, composition, cut, and silhouette to further reinforce period trends and personal aesthetic statements. The class will visit the National Museum of American History and its Conservation and Preservation department where students will be shown how clothing from previous centuries are being preserved and taken care of.  With this foundation students will examine how costumes have been used in film and theatre to help tell a story.

Drawing and rendering skills are not required.

What's New About New Plays
  • Professor E. Schreiber
  • ENGL 1000.10
  • GPAC: Critical Thinking in the 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 Artistic Directors select to be produced each year and the nature of those productions.  We will read at least three classical plays and three new plays. Attending plays will depend on the status of social distancing in DC and MD.  I have arranged with Artistic Directors in DC and elsewhere to have new play readings/rehearsals/performances streamed to us if live performances are not available. Hopefully, if we are all fully vaccinated and boosted, theaters will once again be open for live, in-person performances.


Thinking Across Time with Medieval Literature
  • Professor D. Atherton
  • ENGL 1000.12
  • GPAC: Critical Thinking in the Humanities

In this GPAC Dean's Seminar, we will survey an array of texts (poems, stories, and some documents) from the Early to the Late Middle Ages (from roughly the fifth through the fifteenth centuries) while also examining how “the medieval” appears in more modern and contemporary settings (think fantasy and sci-fi novels, films, television series, and games, but also in political rhetoric) in the hopes that we can think more actively about how these themes and images still circulate today. Historical, geographical, and biographical contexts will help us situate the older texts, but largely our goal will be to learn about and to appreciate (and hopefully enjoy!) the texts for themselves, while also exploring how medieval imagery is evoked today in entertainment, the arts, and politics. The actual medieval works will mostly be in translation, but as part of the experience there will be some no-pressure exposure to Old English, Middle English, and other medieval languages (no previous experience with other languages or any grading will be involved with this). This class will be a space for thinking about how “the medieval” affects and enlivens our world, from how we spend a lot of leisure time to how we conceive of political identity and think of history. The class will be very flexible in terms of what students wish to explore along these themes. While we will use medieval texts to help us focus and organize our conversations, students will be free to discuss and ultimately carry out projects on contemporary works and cultural trends that align more directly with their interests.

Making Movies out of Books
  • Professor J. Campomar
  • ENGL 1000.13
  • GPAC: Critical Thinking in the Humanities
  • GPAC: Oral Communication

Have you ever wondered where movies get their ideas? Are you interested in finding out how a movie is made from the ground up? In ENGL 1000: Making Movies out of Books we will look into how the Hollywood industry relies on 19th-century stories to make 20th- and 21st-century movies and TV shows. We will focus on two of Herman Melville novels: the first one he ever published, Typee, and his most famous work Moby-Dick, and we will read them against the movies and shows that were inspired by them. This course will introduce students to elementary concepts of literary and film analysis, and will guide them through the challenges of understanding adaptation as a process of cultural revision. 

As part of the development of critical thinking skills, you will analyze and evaluate complex information; analyze scholarly literature, in particular its theoretical orientation and sources of support; and formulate an argument based on the analysis of that scholarly literature and/or data.

Throughout the course you will learn about different genres and stages of the writing and film production process: you will take notes, outline, and revise; produce original arguments about primary sources, cite theorists from secondary sources, and combine both to create incisive and creative arguments; write short analytical paragraphs on Blackboard and long critical essays; take from the tradition of Hollywood storytelling practices to shoot your own video-essay and edit it in post-production; and you will have to reflect on the impact your written and filmed productions will have on an ever-changing cultural landscape.

Geographies-Empire & Colonialism
  • Professor D. Cullen
  • GEOG 1000.10
  • GPAC: Critical Thinking, Quantitative Reasoning or Scientific Reasoning in the Social Sciences
  • GPAC: Global or Cross-Cultural Perspectives

The rise and fall of empires is a perennial topic of concern. Empires are also distinctly geographic, they link together different places in relations of domination and resistance. Talk of empires, whether British, French, Roman, Mayan, or American, raises a number of familiar questions. How, why, and where do empires unfold? Why do empires decline? And what are their postcolonial remains? And what does it mean to decolonize something or someplace? In this class we will employ a postcolonial perspective to examine geographic articulations of empire and colonialism. Through considering the politics of knowledge production and  representation, and dispossession, we will also interrogate geography's disciplinary role in imperial projects.

Can we mine our way out of climate change?
  • Professor S. Odell
  • GEOG 1000.11
  • GPAC: Critical Thinking, Quantitative Reasoning or Scientific Reasoning in the Social Sciences
  • GPAC: Global or Cross-Cultural Perspectives

To prevent the worst impacts of global warming, policymakers, corporations, and individuals are seeking to reduce carbon emissions by transitioning from conventional to “clean energy.” Yet while this transition will reduce demand for some natural resources like coal and oil, it will increase the need for others, like copper, cobalt, nickel, and lithium to produce solar panels, wind turbines, and electric vehicles. The process of mining these materials produces its own carbon emissions, and impacts the environment and society, such as by polluting water supplies and displacing vulnerable communities. Students will grapple with this contradiction by learning about the clean energy transition, how mining works, and the ways climate change and mining interact. This knowledge will empower students to engage deeply with each other, the instructor, and the world at large over possible solutions to address climate change while minimizing the creation of new social and environmental harms. 

Folklore, Politics & Social Change
  • Professor J. Freedman
  • GER 1000.10
  • GPAC: Critical Thinking in the Humanities
  • GPAC: Global or Cross-Cultural Perspectives

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.

Green Germany: Sustainability Meister or Myth?
  • Professor M. Gonglewski
  • GER 1000.11
  • GPAC: Critical Thinking in the Humanities

Germany is seen as a global leader in fostering a dynamic economic climate for innovation in clean technology, such as renewable energy, as the result of favorable public policy incentives and strong public support. Yet as the world’s fourth largest economy, Germany is also a top polluter, with its car industry still mired in the recent “Dieselgate” scandal. Has Germany proven itself to be the meister of sustainability, or is sustainability in Germany just a myth?

In this course, we will examine sustainability as “Made in Germany” by learning about the concept in the German cultural terms of environmental, economic, and social responsibility. By focusing specifically on Germany, we will learn about sustainability outside of the U.S. cultural context, raising questions about how different values are expressed in government policy, business practices, and the day-to-day lifestyles of ordinary citizens. We will analyze culturally rich materials---from policy to pop culture---that offer insights into deeply-held societal values. Together, we will look in depth at the history, present, and future of sustainability in Germany, highlighting its many triumphs while also acknowledging its shortcomings.

International Humanitarian Assistance
  • Professor M. Kelso
  • HSSJ 1000.10
  • GPAC: Critical Thinking, Quantitative Reasoning or Scientific Reasoning in the Social Sciences
  • GPAC: Global or Cross-Cultural Perspectives

A massive earthquake hits a metropolitan area, leaving tens of thousands of people without homes, water or food. An aggressor nation invades its smaller neighbor, attacking civilian populations causing millions to flee their country while others remain internally displaced. A pandemic outbreak, with no known cure, ravages communities, leaving entire populations in quarantine, taxing the medical and social systems. Situations such as these arise in which humanitarian assistance is provided to alleviate suffering and to ensure human dignity.

What causes humanitarian disasters? How do individuals, communities and states act and respond to disasters? What organizations at the local, national, and international levels are equipped to respond when such situations occur?

We will explore how and why situations are classified as disasters and which types of organizations respond to those catastrophes. We will also dig into the history of how we have arrived at delivery and assistance of international humanitarian aid. The end of WWII in 1945 brought forth a turning point in international relations through the creation of the UN. This, in turn, formed the humanitarian structures that have been put into place today, such as The World Food Program and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. We will examine local responses to major crises, as well as how national and international organizations and governments respond.

  • Professor L. Papish
  • PHIL 1000.10
  • GPAC: Critical Thinking in the Humanities

In this course we will confront questions related to the phenomenon of evil. What do we mean when we say that some person or act is evil? What distinguishes evil from the merely bad? What are the psychological and social mechanisms behind evil? Does the existence of evil show that God does not exist, and can we criticize evil unless we rely on the concept of God? When, if ever, is evil forgivable? We will rely on philosophical sources to help address these questions, though occasionally we will also turn to literature, history, and the social sciences.

How Democracies Die: Populism and Extremism in Contemporary Politics
  • Professor J. Cerrone
  • PSC 1000.10
  • GPAC: Critical Thinking, Quantitative Reasoning or Scientific Reasoning in the Social Sciences
  • GPAC: Global or Cross-Cultural Perspectives

Is democracy dying? This question would have been unthinkable even a decade ago—yet, it has become urgently relevant amid the electoral success of populist leaders, the increasing prevalence of extremist ideologies, and the mounting threat of political violence. In this Dean’s Seminar, we will explore the meaning of “democracy” and assess how populist and extremist currents in contemporary politics have called into question the long-term stability of democratic governance around the world. Our analysis of democratic pathologies will focus on both diagnosing problems and developing solutions. We will adopt a global perspective to consider the various challenges facing democracy, assessing old and new democracies in both the Global North and Global South.

This course is divided into four parts. In Part I, we will study how scholars define and measure democracy, as well as recent trends in democratic backsliding globally. In Part II, we will explore the relationship between populism and democracy, including what “populism” means, how it manifests on both the right and the left, and how it can simultaneously be a source of democratic threat and renewal. In Part III, we will turn our attention to extremism and its unambiguously anti-democratic profile, incorporating topics such as racism, disinformation, political violence, and fascism. In Part IV, we will apply the theories and concepts from the first three parts of the course to a series of case studies spanning the globe: the United States, Hungary, India, Turkey, Venezuela, and Russia.

As a Dean’s Seminar, our seminar-style class sessions will encourage active engagement in discussion and debate on the challenges and solutions to democratic governance in the twenty-first century. This course fulfills the criteria for the GPAC “Critical Thinking” designation. Students will analyze and critique scholarly arguments and evidence in the Discussant Presentation; apply scholarly theories and concepts to current events in the Current Event Memos; and formulate their own arguments based on scholarly research in the Democracy Reform Project.

Troubling Transparency
  • Professor E. Meehan
  • PSC 1000.11
  • GPAC: Critical Thinking, Quantitative Reasoning or Scientific Reasoning in the Social Sciences

A lack of transparency is thought to be a key driver of economic inequality, democratic backsliding, climate change, platform discrimination, and many other issues. But is sunlight really the best disinfectant? What causes transparency, and what is made transparent for whom, when, and how? Does transparency lead to accountability? In this seminar, we will learn how social scientists have approached these questions and how transparency has been presented in podcasts, documentaries, and films. We will evaluate definitions, measures, and methods used to research transparency across multiple policy areas. These areas include transparency in freedom of information, campaign finance, economic development, government statistics, whistleblowing, taxation, supply chains, labor rights, philanthropy, the environment, and algorithms. You will also learn the foundations of how to read, write, and research in political science and public policy.

Social Psychology of Bias, Discrimination, and Inequality
  • Professor K. AuBuchon
  • PSYC 1000.10
  • GPAC: Critical Thinking, Quantitative Reasoning or Scientific Reasoning in the Social Sciences

“The power of the gaze of others to define how you’re seen in the world; it can shape the scope of your life and influence how you see yourself.” This quote by Dr. Eberhardt illustrates how social psychology is fundamental to understanding bias, discrimination, and inequality.

What do we mean by “implicit bias?” How can we explain issues that pervade our lives such as the gender wage gap, that trans* people are more likely to live in poverty, that 1 in 1000 Black men will die at the hands of police, and Black women are 2.9 times more likely to die in childbirth than White women? This class is designed for students at the beginning of their undergraduate studies who are interested in understanding how researchers try to answer these questions.

Utilizing a critical psychological lens, together we will delve into the research. In this course, you will learn how to read, analyze, and interrogate the evidence in order to understand the psychological roots of discrimination. This course centers on how the causes – and effects – of the “isms” are measured, influenced, and ultimately hopefully reduced. We will discuss the way the media/general public discuss bias and discrimination research and whether (or how much) this matches the evidence researchers have so far. We will also consider what the research shows us in terms of what we can do to tackle these issues. No prior knowledge is assumed, and there are no prerequisites.

Religion Upside Down 1st-3rd Century
  • Professor P. Duff
  • REL 1000.10
  • GPAC: Critical Thinking in the Humanities

What if the hero of the Adam and Eve story was the serpent? And what if the deity was really the villain? Curiously, some Gnostics—renegade Jews and Christians of the 2nd and 3rd centuries CE—read the story this way. They claimed that the deity in the story was not really God but rather an inferior deity who tried to keep Adam and Eve from knowing the truth. The serpent was sent by the true God to open the eyes of the couple to authentic reality.

What about the end of the world? Would it end with a bang or a whimper? Jewish and Christian apocalyptists definitely expected the former. Ancient apocalyptic texts—such as the Book of Daniel and the Book of Revelation—are chock full of nightmare scenarios in which strange and deadly beasts run amok, leading to the wholesale destruction of the earth and its unsuspecting population.

Despite their differences, however, Gnostics and apocalyptists had one thing in common: both groups believed that the world had irrevocably succumbed to the forces of evil. In our seminar, we will read some of these fascinating texts. We will explore the thought processes of the apocalyptists and the Gnostics and examine how these groups’ worldviews helped them survive in what they saw as an utterly corrupt cosmos.

Hollywood & Politics
  • Professor P. Phalen
  • SMPA 1000.10
  • GPAC: Critical Thinking, Quantitative Reasoning or Scientific Reasoning in the Social Sciences

Hollywood & Politics provides an introduction to the American media industry and its age-old relationship with American political life. Did you know that leaders from Hollywood and DC had connections as far back as 1920?  Or that suspected communists were blacklisted in Hollywood during the 1940’s and ‘50s?  Well, now you do – but you’ll learn the details of these and other topics in Hollywood & Politics!  The course covers the history of connections between Hollywood’s executives and political leaders; the influence of celebrities on politics; the representation of politics in television and film; the politics of Hollywood’s business practices, and much more.

Anti-Racism and Policing
  • Professor C. Bustamante
  • SOC 1000.10
  • GPAC: Critical Thinking, Quantitative Reasoning or Scientific Reasoning in the Social Sciences

Antiracism involves the effort to identify and dismantle various interlocking forms of racism (individual, interpersonal, institutional, structural, etc) through the pursuit of ideas, practices, policies, and political actions. In recent years, the intertwined issues of race and policing have become a central target of antiracists and the source of much debate and contention.

This course explores these issues through a survey of topics central to the study of race, policing, and crime control in society. Through course readings, class discussions, and assignments we will analyze the historical origins of policing, evaluate diverse sources of empirical research on policing, and combine these contributions to speak to central academic and policy issues related to policing, racism, racial inequality, and racial justice.

The Science of Uncertainty
  • Professor H. Mahmoud
  • STAT 1000.10
  • GPAC: Quantitative Reasoning in Mathematics or Statistics

Probability and the calculus of chance are presented at an introductory level. Axiomatic probability is introduced. Some fun scenarios, such as poker and urn schemes, are brought to the fore, then some standard discrete and continuous probability distributions are presented. The course touches on Elements of estimation and predictions. Scientific discovery through hypothesis testing is briefly presented. Elements of stochastic behavior are discussed.

Dean's Seminar Highlights