Dean's Seminars


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

Stephanie Travis' (foreground) teaches her Modern Architecture and Design Dean’s Seminar 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

Albert Cramer

BA '12, History

"A memorable academic 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 or lecture."

Spring 2021 Dean's Seminars

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

  • Professor Melanie McAlister
  • AMST 1000.11
  • G-PAC: Arts
  • G-PAC: Global or Cross-Cultural


This is a research seminar in which students will document and analyze cultural and political responses to the COVID crisis. Our final product will be a jointly produced webpage that will serve as a public digital humanities resource. Students will read some theoretical and historical materials on how US and global cultures have responded to previous contagions. But our primary work will be independent projects. Participants draw on their own experiences, using diaries, photographs, interviews, etc. Or they may analyze news media coverage, popular culture, or social media to unpack ideologies, cultural meanings, and the responses of ordinary people. Our project will include local, national, and transnational analyses, and formats will likely range from written essays to short videos to podcasts to photographic essays.

  • Professor Jamie Cohen-Cole
  • AMST 1000.12
  • G-PAC: Oral Communication
  • G-PAC: Critical Thinking (Humanities)


The sciences and philosophy ask hard questions: What is the nature of knowledge? What characteristics define humanity? How much does culture matter? It turns out that these questions have provoked fierce disagreements for how we understand, raise, and educate children. They are tied to our visions of morality, politics, education, and the shape we want the future to take.This seminar adopts a historical approach to see how these questions and the debates about children have been approached by philosophers, biologists, anthropologists, and psychologists. Registration restricted to CCAS freshman only.

  • Professor Attiya Ahmad
  • ANTH 1000.10
  • G-PAC: Social Sciences


We live in a world interconnected through transnational &  global processes. Whether through trade, travelers, technology, goods or services, these interconnections are not new and are unlikely to end.  Different parts of our world have long been interconnected.  The nature of these interconnections have changed and will continue to change.  

This course examines transnational & global processes through the lens of material objects and commodities, for example cotton and indigo that make up blue jeans--a ubiquitous, taken-for-granted, yet extraordinarily consequential product that has shaped and continues to shape the world in which we live.

Designed for students at the beginning of their undergraduate studies, in this course we will put foundational scholarly writings on transnationalism & globalization in conversation with visualizing data techniques.  Class projects, both collective and individual, will involve the development of multimedia projects that will push us to conceptualize, analyze and document transnational & global processes in relation (but not reducible)  to textual forms.

  • Professor Bibiana Obler
  • CAH 1000.10
  • G-PAC: Arts


What responsibility do curators in Washington, D.C. have to represent art from various cultures and time periods to the U.S. public and visitors from other countries? What particular challenges do this city’s museum educators, guards, development staff, conservators, etc. face? What place does contemporary art have in a city dense with political debate and heavily laden with historical memory?

Museums across the country (and world) are facing a historical reckoning and in many cases scrambling to address their elitism and complicity with colonialism. In this seminar, we will take arts institutions in DC as our case study. Even if we can’t visit museums and galleries together in person this semester, we can meet with the people who work here to learn, first-hand, what measures are being taken.

Our meetings will be complemented by class discussions on readings that address questions such as the difference between diversity and decolonization, the implications of museums’ monied origins, and activism in the art world. For their final project, students will draft their own suggestions for the improvement of DC’s art institutions.


  • Professor Jane Shore
  • ENGL 1000.10
  • G-PAC: 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.

  • Professor Francys Subiaul
  • SLHS 1000.10
  • G-PAC: Social Sciences


How do we come to understand others and navigate our dynamic social worlds? This course will answer this question in four parts through readings in the primary scientific literature varying in theoretical perspectives and methodological approaches (e.g., Eye-tracking, EEG, fNIRS). First, we will explore infants’ intuitions of social concepts such as animacy, agency, group-membership, morality, and ownership. Second, we will focus on imitation learning, the earliest means by which infants use to acquire knowledge from others. Third, we will learn how language transforms human social intelligence in a species-unique manner. Finally, in the last part of the class we will evaluate what makes human social cognition—including basic social concepts and social learning mechanisms—like and unlike that of other animals.



Dean's Seminar Highlights