Liberal Studies Program > First-Year Program > Course Descriptions > Honors Discover Chicago

Honors Discover Chicago

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Autumn 2021

Open only to students in the University Honors Program

Courses available in Autumn 2021 are noted with (2021) before the course title.  

HON 110

On Chicago’s South Side, the 47th Street thoroughfare and the neighborhoods it concourses between Lake Michigan and the Dan Ryan Expressway go by a slew of historic euphemisms: the Black Belt, Kenwood, Bronzeville, Grand Boulevard, Blues Mecca, and the Strip. Lyrical tags coined and hummed by bluesmen, preachers, proletariats, panderers, and real estate developers. Ostentatious tags contrived by reverse carpetbaggers on the take, come to Chicago’s South Side in search of the Promised Land and all such a sacrosanct notion entails in the migrant imagination: freedom, hope, God, truth, survival, acclimation and at the very end of their trek, opportunity. We will engage 47th Street as a historic landing place for Black Americans migrating from the U.S. South. We will address that which so differentiates and complicates these three Chicago miles: its blue rhythms, its bourgeois pretensions, its parochial sensibilities, and its imposed yet embraced (and fiercely protected) demographic homogeny. In so doing, we will traipse through a place once so self-sustained, one which remains palpably insulated from the rest of the Chicago cultural landscape; a 47th Street that even in its raging blue irony, quite acutely reflects its Southern lineage, its urban industrial locus, and its American heritage.

Chicago’s history is the story of meteoric growth and expansion. More than a century ago, its position as a transportation hub and manufacturing center made Chicago the envy of the Midwest, bringing those with diverse artistic traditions to the city. Accompanying the city’s commercial success, Chicago’s leaders set out to create a cultural city in which art, design, and architecture would contribute to a better quality of life – not just for the few – but for all its residents. This course will focus on Chicago’s rich visual art and design legacy. We'll explore the contributions of artists, designers, and creatives through visits to museums, architectural sites, and public art in diverse cultural neighborhoods. Our study will examine how Chicago nurtured and challenged a creative community to make the city a place where art and design are all around us.

What do you think of when you hear “not for profit”? Most people would say a Red Cross blood van or a pet adoption center. This class challenges that perspective by taking an in-depth look at the variety of NFP’s around the city of Chicago. Through site visits and in-class discussions, students will have the opportunity to learn more about local Chicago nonprofit businesses and the multiple stakeholder groups involved with each. By meeting the leaders, civic-minded volunteers, charitable giving representatives from for-profit businesses, and the people each group seeks to support, students will gain a broad understanding of all it takes to make a non-profit successful. During the class, we will explore the environmental, social, economic and political challenges facing charitable organizations located in Chicago. Additionally, we will learn first-hand about the areas and people served across Chicago’s many diverse areas.

This course introduces students to the diverse musical offerings in the Chicago metropolitan area. Students will learn about the wide variety of music- and arts-related activities across many genres and musical styles. In addition to the excursions taken during Immersion Week and throughout the Fall Quarter, class discussions will focus on topics central to understanding Chicago's music scene in both its historical and contemporary contexts. Topics will focus on the relevance of the music industry as it relates to musicians, industry professionals, educators, and patrons; including fandom, race, gender, historical changes, music criticism, and current industry developments. Genres will span the diversity of the Chicago music community, including blues, folk, hip-hop, jazz, musical theatre, opera, rock, Western art and classical music, and various music of the world. Sessions will include lectures, open classroom discussion, and guest speakers.

  • Open only to students in the School of Music

This course introduces students to the cultural diversity of Chicago through an examination of ethnic identities and stories of immigration to Chicago over time, as they are represented in museum exhibitions and community centers around the City. What ethnic groups constitute the city of Chicago? When and why did they come here? How have they -- and have they not integrated with their new neighbors? How do they negotiate ethnic distinctiveness in their new City? Focusing on individual stories of arrival and identity construction (through art, and other manifestations of ethnic identity such as festivals and cultural centers), this course will encourage students to search for individual stories as a way to understand diversity -- and Chicago’s patchwork heritage -- one person and one group at a time.

Chicago is often referred to as an “accident of geography”. This course will introduce students to the environmental, socioeconomic, and cultural history of Chicago’s 27-mile long lakefront. Students will study the interactions between Chicago and its surrounding natural environment, it’s geography and natural resources, the central role the lakefront played in important cultural and historical events, and how Chicago’s growth and development have impacted its natural environment. Immersion Week escapades will include a stop at the 360-Chicago observation deck in the John Hancock Tower, stops along the lakefront, including Grant Park, Millennium Park, Navy Pier, Jackson Park, the former U.S. Steel South Works site, a stroll along the Chicago River walk, and a canoe trip on the North Branch of the Chicago River. Students should bring sunscreen, a camera, and a zest for learning.

The purpose of this course is to examine the different types of loss that we are likely to experience throughout our lives. The types of loss that may be addressed in this course include: the death of a loved one (e.g., family member, pet), the loss of a relationship (e.g., divorce, breakups), and the loss of identity (e.g., traumatic life events, transition to adulthood). From a life course perspective, this course will examine beliefs and spirituality, loss legacies, healing, and resilience. Experiential components of the course may consist of trips to various Chicago institutions such as museums, cemeteries, a funeral home, an animal shelter, sites of famous deaths, and other locations around the city that offer a unique perspective on loss in society.

In this course, we explore different aspects of Chicago's role as a leading international city. Topics we will cover include: representation of foreign governments in Chicago, Chicago as a center of international trade and tourism, immigration and multiculturalism in Chicago, foreign students in Chicago, foreign policy analysis and bureaucracies in Chicago, the activities of local groups in international issues, the coverage of foreign news in the local media, and the efforts of the City of Chicago’s government to promote its standing as an international city. We will take several field trips to visit relevant and interesting locales, and we will have occasional guest speakers as well. 

Chicago has always been a city of immigrants, one of the most linguistically diverse cities in the United States and the most segregated one. This course proposes to discover and explore Chicago by means of ethnographic studies of language and historical narratives. An ethnographic perspective requires attention to local-level, “insider” meanings that students will explore by a research process and by observing the communities themselves.

While no knowledge of Spanish is required, if you are planning to take this Honors Discover Chicago course, now could be the perfect opportunity to learn Spanish or to develop your existing Spanish skills by taking a concurrent Spanish language class -- beginning, intermediate or advanced -- depending on past experience or results of the language placement test. For more information, contact Tania Rodriguez at

What does it mean to call Chicago a “city”? For example, are cities vast networks of roads, buildings, and institutions? Sets of ethnic communities living side by side and interacting together? Are cities more like living and growing biological organisms, or more like sacred communities seeking God and beauty together? What makes Chicago a unique kind of city, and what makes it a city like other cities that have thrived over time and space? To answer these questions, this class will study some of the ways in which the urban spaces and life of modern Chicago are similar to, and different from those of cities that thrived during Antiquity, the Middle Ages, and the Renaissance in the Mediterranean world and Europe. We’ll explore some of the Chicago institutions and people that connect Chicago to the Middle Ages. And we'll visit sites in Chicago that give us information on urban spaces both today and in the Middle Ages: museums, churches, and libraries.

Using Chicago as a base, this course will look at the international artistic movement of modernism, known for its rule-breaking experimentation with style and its shocking subject matter. The modernist arts are exceptionally well represented in Chicago: modern artists including Picasso, Chagall, and Miro created several of the public sculptures displayed in the Loop; major modernists are featured in the Art Institute of Chicago; and the city features buildings designed by influential modern architects such as Frank Lloyd Wright and Mies van der Rohe. Chicago also provided an infrastructure and an inspiration for several modernists: Harriet Monroe’s groundbreaking Poetry: A Magazine of Verse published major modernist poets; Jane Addams’ Hull House provided a Chicago venue for several controversial modernist plays, at times even provoking death threats; and Bronzeville’s “Black Metropolis” served as base for several important African American writers, artists, and musicians. As we study works of modernist art across the city, we will consider how the artists were responding to cultural, historical, and social developments taking place in the first decades of the twentieth century, including the Great Migration, the feminist movement, the entertainment boom of the 1920s, and the Great Depression of the 1930s. We will see how these modern developments were felt throughout the city, from the vibrant jazz scene on the South Side and the dance halls and picture palaces in Uptown, to immigrant communities on the west side and the 1933-34 Century of Progress International Exposition on the lakefront.

What would Chicago look like if violence were not as stubbornly pervasive as it is? A growing number of organizations across the city are determined to find out – by building a culture of nonviolent options. In Chicago this potential nonviolent culture (where every person matters and where this respect, compassion, and commitment to the well-being of all can spark effective alternatives to personal, interpersonal, and structural violence) is potentially emerging piece by piece through the work of numerous Chicago organizations. These include the South Austin Coalition, Su Casa Catholic Worker, Voices for Creative Nonviolence, Interfaith Youth Core, Kairos Community, and American Friends Service Committee. This course will study and experience the work of these groups to illuminate what a nonviolent culture might look like and how a more “Nonviolent Chicago” could emerge through education, community-building, social movements, awareness campaigns, and nonviolent design, which this class will engage in methodically and creatively. This course begins with an Immersion Week, where we will visit and engage with the organizations across Chicago listed above. 

Certain objects can and do suggest our social and class status, the power relations in which we engage, and perhaps most importantly, a place, time, and people that interacted with the object. Objects ‘R’ definitely us. For centuries our objects have been under public scrutiny in museum displays. Focusing on subjects central to understanding Chicago’s museum scene in both its historical and contemporary contexts, we will engage in a critical interrogation of a variety of anthropological approaches to objects in museums and an assessment of museum practices. This course explores how objects are used in the context of museums to produce a sense of the past, of historicity, and of belonging, but also how museums deal with conflicted, contested, or fragmented histories. Class discussions, assignments, and field trips will allow for the consideration of the interplay of nationalism and identity in Chicago’s diverse communities as represented through the public display of objects.

Food, shelter, healthcare, education, work... These are the five pre- conditions necessary for the “pursuit of happiness” that the Declaration of Independence identifies as each person’s “unalienable right.” Without them the pursuit of happiness risks becoming a hopeless, Quixotic quest. Yet not all Americans have access to these basic necessities. Some go hungry, some are homeless, some lack health insurance, some attend poorly funded and unsafe schools, some do not earn a living wage. Who are they—the poor and the near-poor? What are their lives like? What assistance is available to them? What more may be done to help them? What is the best solution—a free-market economy, government intervention, private charitable efforts,...? What obligation do I as an individual and we as a society have to help our fellow human beings? These are the issues and questions around which Immersion Week and the seminar component of the course will take shape. The issues that you the students choose to explore, the further questions that you generate, the research and the service that you undertake will add to this structure. During Immersion Week we will visit sites and community organizations addressing issues such as food access, housing, environmental justice and employment training in neighborhoods on the north, west and south sides of Chicago.

Chicago is the second largest theatre center in the United States. Productions and artists nurtured in Chicago’s theatres regularly receive attention and acclaim nationally and internationally. However, the primary goal of most Chicago theatrical productions is to connect with audiences from Chicago and its surroundings. Chicago theatre companies produce a varied assortment of plays and communicate with audiences drawn from many different communities. This class will look at the work of some of Chicago’s theatre companies and examine how they connect to and create communities in the city. What specific communities are served by the theatres (economic, ethnic, political, social)? How do theatre makers interact with their communities and with their colleagues? How does ethical theatre making impact both the product and the process of theatre makers? By examining Chicago’s theatrical activity, we hope to be able to better understand the way the various communities that make up the city interact on a variety of levels. 

  • Open only to students in The Theatre School

This course will Discover Chicago through the lens of augmented reality (AR) overlaying the city. This augmentation is available to use via smartphones (access to an iphone or android device will be required for this section). Augmented Reality combines and aligns real and virtual objects in the physical environment. Perhaps the current most well-known augmented reality system is the game Pokémon Go but augmented reality encompasses not only games a large variety of applications including virtually embedded art, engagement in historical sites and real time traffic applications. Chicago is uniquely positioned for a rich AR experience given the development of historical apps and burgeoning tech industry. We will use AR applications to explore multiple neighborhoods and sites such as the virtual reality lab and 1871 in Chicago through this unique modern lens. Our explorations will inform discussions of (dis)embodied experiences, methods of knowledge transmission, digital divides and literacies, and social implications.

This course explores Frank Lloyd Wright and Chicago architecture. It studies the invention of the skyscraper and how new ideas and methods influenced Wright. The class uses walking tours to learn about late 19th- century Chicago and tours a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Prairie Style home. Visiting early Chicago houses also illustrates how radical Wright’s home design was and how much it influenced the way modern houses look and function. The course uses readings and research, videos and discussion to evaluate Wright’s place in modern architectural history and his profound effect on building types such as the home, the church, the museum and the office building. 

How do artists make sense of their lives in the city—using the “I see,” “I want,” “I remember,” first-person point of view? How might personal documentary, memoir, and self-portraiture works help the rest of us find our place in the intimidating metropolis? Chicago has over nine million people inhabiting its city and suburbs, and this population density might lead us to believe individuals don’t matter, but what gives Chicago vitality is the interplay of many, each particular story complex, full, and inseparable from the parts of city where the story occurred. In this course, led by a working Chicago memoirist, we look at how authors, visual artists, and performers use memory and observation to make books, photographs, paintings, and live lit monologues that illuminate common experience and witness, helping us see how to live within the metropolitan roar. We will read from older memoirs that describe loving and surviving in the Chicago that used to be, as well as contemporary autobiographical writings that grapple with, and pay homage to, city life today. We will travel to neighborhoods described in the stories we read, and visit big and little museums to consider how established and outsider artists of the city have created their own ways of seeing themselves clearly, even while encompassed by the throng. We will also attend a Chicago nonfiction storytelling event—part of the city’s thriving live lit scene. Students will keep an urban observation and memory daybook—which will include a bit of first-person creative work about their own experience of the big city—as well as write short response and analysis papers.

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