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 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."

Fall 2021 Dean's Seminars

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

  • 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/21st Century. 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 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, theaters will once again be open for live, in-person performances.

*ATTEND WOOLY MAMMOTH’S DC OPENING OF TEENAGE DICK by MIKE LEW, a modern take on Shakespeare’s Richard III, set in high school with a focus on disabilities.


*STREAM CUTTING-EDGE PRODUCTIONS OF CLASSIC AND NEW PLAYS, such as Fairview by Jackie Sibblies Drury; An Octoroon by Branden Jacobs Jenkins; Pass Over by Antoinette Nwandu, directed by Spike Lee; Kiss by Guillermo Calderon; Cyprus Avenue by David Ireland


*READ plays by Samuel Beckett, Harold Pinter, Luis Alfaro, Caryl Churchill, Bruce Norris, Edward Albee, William Shakespeare, Lorraine Hansberry, Sophocles


  • 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.

  • 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.


  • Professor J. Kanter
  • MUS/TRDA 1000.80
  • GPAC: Creative Thinking in the Arts
  • GPAC: Global or Cross-Cultural Perspectives


The mission of this Corcoran team taught course is to provide students with a comparative introduction to key concepts in the making and analysis of art across disciplines and cultures. In addition, the course provides students with a framework for thinking about the relationships between the arts and social justice.  Questions explored will include, where does a work of art begin?  What is the role of technique in art-making?  Does improvisation have form?  Do aesthetics have politics?  And what is the value of cultural specificity in addressing diverse audiences?

Students will work with faculty from Theatre, Dance, Music and Studio Art.  They will examine both classic and contemporary interdisciplinary works, and will explore interdisciplinary processes themselves.  And, COVID-19 protocols permitting, they will explore some of Washington D.C.’s extraordinary cultural institutions.

  • 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. 

  • Professor K. Pemberton
  • REL/WGSS 1000.80
  • GPAC: Critical Thinking in the Humanities 
  • GPAC: Global or Cross-Cultural Perspectives


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.

  • Professor P. Phalen
  • SMPA 1000.10
  • G-PAC: Critical Thinking 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.


  • 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. The class will be engaged in a number of small experiments and projects dealing with stochasticity. 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.

  • Professor S. Johannesdottir
  • TRDA 1000.10
  • GPAC: Creative or Critical Thinking in the Arts
  • GPAC: Oral Communication
  • GPAC: Global or Cross-Cultural Perspectives


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.


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


'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 analyze 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. 


Dean's Seminar Highlights