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 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.


Albert Cramer

Sarah Abramsky

BA '18, Psychology

"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."

Fall 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 Hugh Gusterson
  • ANTH 1000.10
  • G-PAC: Social Science
  • G-PAC: Global/Cross Cultural
  • 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.
  • Professor Alexander Dent
  • ANTH 1000.
  • G-PAC: Social Science
  • G-PAC: Global/Cross Cultural

Cell phones are everywhere -- in the bedroom, the supermarket, the classroom, the church service, and the car.  We use them for all manner of tasks and feel acutely anxious when they don’t work. Sometimes, that anxiety actually manifests as physical pain.  This course will provide a way for students to begin to theorize their relation to these devices.  Throughout, we will consider our ambivalence about cell phones – the way we both love and hate them.  On one side, we are clearly managing collective anxieties about sexuality, gender, and teenage development through our concern with “addiction” and “distraction;” much of this alarm recapitulates reactions to printing, railway trains, television, cars, and land-line telephones.  At the same time, cellular communication has provided a unique sense of global connection while giving oppressed groups the opportunity to counteract violence (as with the Arab Spring, Black Lives Matter, and #MeToo).  We will avoid taking sides as we inquire into the cellular aspects of our daily lives. 

  • Professor Bibiana Obler 
  • AH 1000.10
  • G-PAC: Humanities

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? In this iteration of this seminar, students will take an exhibition co-curated by Prof. Obler, with Phyllis Rosenzweig, curator emerita, Hirshhorn Museum & Sculpture Garden, as a case study. On view at the Corcoran’s Flagg Building from August 8–December 15, “Fast Fashion / Slow Art” will feature 11 videos with the aim of catalyzing broad-ranging discussions on labor and environmental sustainability in contemporary garment industries. Students will make their own intervention in the city’s art scene by organizing an exhibition—also on the subject of fast fashion—in Gallery 102, the Corcoran's student-run gallery.  

  • Professor Evelyn Schreiber 
  • ENGL 1000.12
  • G-PAC: Humanities

This Dean’s Seminar takes advantage of the theatre 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 theatre 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 three classical plays and three new plays as well as attend at least one new play.

  • 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 Jean Freedman
  • GER 1000.10
  • G-PAC: Humanities
  • G-PAC: Oral Communication
  • G-PAC: Global/Cross Cultural Perspective
  • For centuries folktales and fairy tales have fueled the popular imagination of children and adults. As 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.
  • 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.
  • Professor Patricia Phalen
  • SMPA 1000.10
  • G-PAC: 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.
  • Professor Stephanie Travis
  • IA 1000
  • G-PAC: Arts
  • G-PAC: Global/Cross Cultural
  • 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.

  • Professor Tanya Wetenhall
  • TRDA 1000
  • G-PAC: Arts
  • G-PAC: Global/Cross Cultural
  • G-PAC: Oral Communication
  • This course illuminates the relationship between dress and humans as social, biological and aesthetic creatures. It is a survey of the psychological, social and cultural aspects of dress and appearance, including the relationship of dress to physical and social environments, aesthetic and personal expression, and cultural ideals and values. In this course, you will learn how silhouettes and textiles inform about travel and trade; how construction and motifs reveal spiritual and cultural customs; and how dress can define or blur gender. We also explore established behaviors in relationship to “getting dressed”; cultural authentication; how dress is used as a cultural tool; historical and contemporary dress practices; the subject of dress in museums; and trade and textile production. The basic elements of creating dress: fibers, weave structures, dyestuffs and the arts of wrapping, suspending, tailoring etc. will also be explored.


Dean's Seminar Highlights