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 2024 Dean's Seminars

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

Persistence in the Americas
  • Professor C. Vidal Guzmán
  • ANTH 1000.11
  • GPAC: Critical Thinking, Quantitative Reasoning or Scientific Reasoning in the Social Sciences
  • GPAC: Global or Cross-Cultural Perspective

Identity, environment, language, belief systems, and human rights are some of the more central issues relating to the struggles and persistence of Indigenous communities all over the world. While there is a great deal of difference from community to community and from country to country, Indigenous societies share a binding narrative to settler colonialism. Such a narrative essentially prescribes a rupture between a long gone past filled with conquest, disease, assimilation, and loss, and an uncertain future that is not totally theirs. This course counters such narratives by introducing students to several Indigenous voices, both past and present, that highlight the persistence and resilience of Indigenous peoples in the Americas. The goal of the course is to provide students with an opportunity to learn about the history and culture of Indigenous peoples in the Americas from their own perspective. Most of the readings are by native voices, or by scholars working directly with native sources, rather than conventional textbooks or third-hand syntheses. First, the course will consider foundational issues associated with defining indigeneity. Next, we will broadly survey the Indigenous experiences in the Americas from before the onset of settler colonialism. Finally, the last section of the course will critically analyze more contemporary issues that affect Indigenous communities such as representation, decolonization, reparations, and the repatriation of heritage.

Religion, Culture and Power
  • Professor M. Kaplan
  • ANTH 1000.11
  • GPAC: Critical Thinking, Quantitative Reasoning or Scientific Reasoning in the Social Sciences

From protests over religious restrictions in Iran to debates over reproductive rights in the US, the status of religion remains contentious in many countries across the globe. Why does religion remain such a powerful presence in the lives of so many, while also inspiring great distrust and concern among others? Why does the place of religion in governance and society remain the source of impassioned contestation and deep division? The first half of this course offers a critical inquiry into religion, state, and power. We’ll investigate how religion has been separated out analytically from other categories of experience, such as politics and economics, and has developed a particular shape and form in the contemporary period. We’ll also consider how unique understandings of religious expression became globally dominant by delving into religious and secular entanglements with issues of race, gender, and imperialism. After developing conceptual frameworks for understanding religion in the contemporary period, the second half of the semester focuses on lived experiences of religion. We’ll analyze how individuals navigate religious life in an ostensibly secular era, from evangelical Christians entrenching themselves in political action to devout Muslims weaving prayers into their daily lives in officially secular Turkey. We'll finish the semester by turning the lens on the GW community and applying our anthropological methods to analyze the form religion takes on the GW campus and within the broader DC cityscape.

Arabic Comics & Youth Culture
  • ARAB 1000.10
  • Professor E. Oraby
  • GPAC: Critical Thinking in the Humanities
  • GPAC: Global or Cross-Cultural Perspective

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 medium of comics? 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 artists 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.

Great Bromances of Arabic Literature
  • ARAB 1000.11
  • Professor J. Tobkin
  • GPAC: Critical Thinking in the Humanities

History is the process of reporting events about the past so that they form an interesting and meaningful story, and the telling of stories for entertainment is well attested in the Arabic language. Some of these stories are based on real people and events, and some are entirely fictional; some were told before a public or private audience many times before being recorded in writing.Arabic texts often use the word “brotherhood” to refer to a social and emotional bond between two or more men unrelated by blood, and brotherhood is a major theme in pre-modern Arabic literature. Combine that with “romance,” in its meaning of a semi-historical tale about the extraordinary deeds of a legendary hero, and you get “bromance.” One of the bromances we will study in this class is truly the stuff of legend; the Abbasid Caliph Hārūn al-Rashīd, the vizier Jaʿfar al-Barmakī, and the poet Abū Nuwās spent only a few years together at work and play, but their era, the late 700s and early 800s, is widely considered a Golden Age of Arab-Islamic civilization, and writers throughout the centuries have celebrated and vilified this trio. The other is the story of two men who have dedicated their artistic careers to preserving underrepresented aspects of the Egyptian cultural heritage, namely the poetry, tales, and music of Upper Egypt and Lower Nubia; the members of this bromance are the poet Abdel Rahman El-Abnudi (1938-2015) and the singer Mohamed Mounir (1954-). In this class, we will encounter Arabic historiographical writings, tales from the 1001 Nights, Arabic poetry and prose literature from various eras, as well as documentary films and music. Students will also explore other historical figures and trends tangential to the ones which are the focus of our class.

Art of Exhibitions
  • CAH 1000.10
  • Professor B. Obler
  • GPAC: Critical or Creative Thinking in the 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. Through site visits and practical assignments, students will learn about existing strategies and imagine possible futures.

Art & Politics
  • CAH 1000.10
  • Professor L. Matheny
  • GPAC: Critical or Creative 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, craft, 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, gender and sexuality, 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. The course will include field trips and special effort will be made to incorporate discussion of art seen in Washington.

Unreasonable Doubt
  • CHEM 1000.10
  • Professor H. Thorp
  • 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
  • CIAR 1000.10
  • Professor S. Travis
  • GPAC: Critical or Creative Thinking in the Arts
  • GPAC: Global or Cross-Cultural Perspective
Imagining Better Social Media
  • COMM 1000.10
  • Professor D. Sude
  • GPAC: Critical Thinking, Quantitative Reasoning or Scientific Reasoning in the Social Sciences
Global Dress and Culture
  • CTAD 1000.11
  • Professor T. Wetenhall
  • GPAC: Critical or Creative Thinking in the Arts
  • GPAC: Global or Cross-Cultural Perspective
  • GPAC: Oral Communication

'Global Dress and Culture' presents dress as material and visual culture, illuminating the relationship between dress and humans as social, biological and aesthetic creatures. Students engage with 'dress' as clothing, costume, fashion, bodily modification and adornment and its 'culture’—the processes, activities and relationships of global dress-related practices, particularly its material production and uses as a symbolic system. Students learn Eicher and Evenson's culturally sensitive classification system for analyzing dress and consider how dress and textiles reflect local and global economies and trade, exhibit customs and ideologies, and how dress signifies status as a social construct. In-class sessions include: + learning about the primary fibers, dyestuffs, and textiles used in creating dress; + examining historical fragments and objects; + preserving and displaying dress in museums; and + discussing contemporary issues such as cultural appropriation and sustainability. Directed explorations of the agency of dress in various art forms, its illustration in historical media and emerging visual technologies, and the performativity of dress as a medium of social action and expression of humankind's continuous migration, intellectual interchange, and condition form part of the discussions. The course introduces students to renowned GW and Washington DC research centers and resources, including GW's Textile Museum (GWTM), the GWTM's Textile 101 Lab, Cotsen Textile Traces Study Collection, Arthur D. Jenkins Library, and other DC cultural institutions. Assignments introduce research skills and methods for the humanities and the applied science of museum studies. 'Global Dress and Culture' fulfills GPAC with CCAS: Arts, Oral Communication, Global, and Cross-Cultural perspective course attributes.

Creativity Across Arts & Culture
  • CTAD 1000.13
  • Professor J. Kanter
  • GPAC: Critical or Creative Thinking in the Arts
  • GPAC: Global or Cross-Cultural Perspective
What's New About New Plays
  • ENGL 1000.10
  • Professor E. Schreiber
  • GPAC: Critical Thinking in the Humanities
Migrants in the City
  • GEOG 1000.10
  • Professor E. Chacko
  • GPAC: Critical Thinking, Quantitative Reasoning or Scientific Reasoning in the Social Sciences
  • GPAC: Oral Communication

In this course students will investigate and analyze key ways of examining the relationships between migration (flows of human beings across internal administrative borders as well as international borders) and the city, through readings on migration theories and processes, the evolution of immigrant enclaves and neighborhoods, immigrant identity as it relates to place, immigrant entrepreneurship, the gendered nature of some migrant flows and the mutual influence of immigrants and urban landscapes. Students will also conduct research on immigration and its effects in cities (with an emphasis on the Washington Metropolitan Area), gathering and analyzing data from archival sources, the Census and information gathered during field work by students.

Fairy Tales: Grimms to Disney
  • GER 1000.10
  • Professor M.B. Stein
  • GPAC: Critical Thinking in the Humanities
  • GPAC: Global or Cross-Cultural Perspective
  • GPAC: Oral Communication
Green Germany: Sustainability
  • GER 1000.11
  • Professor M. Gonglewski
  • GPAC: Critical Thinking in the Humanities
Police, Prisons, and Abolition
  • HIST 1000.10
  • Professor B. Hornbostel
  • GPAC: Critical Thinking in the Humanities
  • GPAC: Local/Civic Engagement
Leadership in Organizations
  • ORSC 1000.10
  • Professor L. Offermann
  • GPAC: Critical Thinking, Quantitative Reasoning or Scientific Reasoning in the Social Sciences

Leading exceptionally in today’s world can be challenging yet highly satisfying if done well. Who determines what exceptional leadership is, and how can a person achieve such skills? Leaders are facing a new normal in the workplace which has become significantly impacted by their teams. Hybrid schedules, emphasis on work/life balance, remote positions, and global expansion impact the environment leaders need to successfully navigate. These trends are hindering decision-making and problem-solving opportunities that require collective and collaborative environments. Leaders need to be prepared to pivot and adjust by creating a cohesive culture and leveraging the skills and abilities of their teams toward success. In this course, students will be exposed to psychological theory, research, and applications in the area of leadership. There will be an emphasis on current leadership trends and controversies. Students will have the opportunity to analyze a significant public figure, apply theory to real-world examples, and consider how they want to lead their own lives. Students will learn research-based strategies for exceptional leadership through empowering, equipping, and developing those they lead today and in the future.

Hot Politics: Climate Change
  • PSC 1000.10
  • Professor J. Mongkolnchaiarunya
  • GPAC: Critical Thinking, Quantitative Reasoning or Scientific Reasoning in the Social Sciences
Demagogues & Democrats
  • PSC 1000.11
  • Professor C. Schmotter
  • GPAC: Critical Thinking, Quantitative Reasoning or Scientific Reasoning in the Social Sciences
  • GPAC: Local/Civic Engagement

What are the merits and weaknesses of democratic systems? Who and what constitutes a nation? What are the sources of power of those who govern society, and what constraints exist on that power? How should we balance the demands of the community (whether political, religious, class, or ethnic) with individual liberty? How can a democracy ensure the rights of minorities? What are the best means to achieve political ends? This course focuses on the struggles of two political communities at critical junctures in their histories – Athens in 403 BCE and India in 1945. We will investigate these questions by engaging in extensive role-playing games, where each student assumes the role of an important political figure in ancient Athens and colonial India in order to debate how to best establish democracy and unity, national identity and authority, and social and economic justice. By taking on the role of historical political actors, you will not only come to understand the incentives and constraints that shape individual agency, but will experience the many intrigues of domestic policymaking first-hand, including how personal goals, idiosyncrasies, and beliefs affect decision-making processes, government policies, and the shape and scope of political coalitions. In the end, the way history unfolds in our class may or may not align with the historical record, providing a counterfactual set of events with which to investigate questions of causality, inevitability, and missed opportunities.

Black Political Thought
  • PSC 1000.12
  • Professor J. Smith
  • GPAC: Critical Thinking, Quantitative Reasoning or Scientific Reasoning in the Social Sciences
  • GPAC: Global or Cross-Cultural Perspective
Islam in the Digital Age
  • REL 1000.80
  • Professor K. Pemberton
  • GPAC: Critical Thinking in the Humanities
  • GPAC: Global or Cross-Cultural Perspective

This mixed methods course draws upon technocultural studies, marketing theory, visual analysis, social psychology, cultural studies, and critical feminist and gender studies to assess the ways in which digital technologies have shaped expressions and understandings of Islam, Islamic authority, and Islamic markets (especially the 'halal' market). Beginning with an introduction to the emergence of new technologies in Muslim-majority countries in the late 19th century and Muslims’ varied responses to them, we pay special attention to the ways in which digital technologies have enabled the development of new and innovative paradigms for understanding the role of Islam in the public sphere. Gender -- particularly as it relates to debates about Islamic masculinities, femininities, and sexualities – serves as a pivotal theme and point of inquiry throughout the term. The course is highly interactive and provides many opportunities for student participation in small group discussions and in-class collaborations.

Hollywood & Politics
  • SMPA 1000.10
  • Professor P. Phalen
  • GPAC: Critical Thinking, Quantitative Reasoning or Scientific Reasoning in the Social Sciences
The Science of Uncertainty
  • STAT 1000.10
  • Professor H. Mahmoud
  • GPAC: Quantitative Reasoning in Mathematics or Statics

Dean's Seminar Highlights