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

Honors Explore Chicago

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Autumn 2022

Open only to students in the University Honors Program

Courses available in Autumn 2022 are noted with (2022) before the course title.  ​

HON 111

In this course, we will visit several important landmarks and discuss their aesthetic value. We shall use the city as our text and consider the city of Chicago as a kind of work of art. Since to fully appreciate anything at all, it is necessary to know something about its history and genesis, we will spend some time studying the history of Chicago, with a focus on the people and events behind the current layout of the city. In addition to introducing you to the city, this course will also serve as an introduction to philosophy, in particular to the branch of philosophy that deals with issues concerning beauty, that is, aesthetics. We might all agree that the view of the Chicago skyline from Buckingham Fountain or the view of the river from Michigan Avenue and Wacker Drive is beautiful, but why do we agree? What makes a given thing or collection of things beautiful? Is a more diverse city a more beautiful city? Is a more beautiful city a more valuable city? In this course we shall explore such questions as we explore the city of Chicago.

In this course we explore several Chicago-area homes and neighborhoods, paying careful attention to how the architecture and artifacts of these spaces lend insight into the changing nature of how Chicagoans have lived in this city from the 19th century to today. We will also be thinking broadly about the wide variety of Chicago’s homes, and as such we will consider the mansions of Chicago’s Prairie Avenue as well as Chicago’s notorious high-rise public housing projects; we will examine the landscape-inspired lines of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie Style houses, as well as the spaces that house Chicago’s homeless-- all in service of understanding how domestic architecture and the “stuff” inside the places we call “home” might serve as windows into how people lived in the past.

Class will meet in person every week, but not always for the full 4-hour block. When class meets for less than the full block, there will be supplementary asynchronous online activities. Specific information will be provided well in advance.

The Chicago Renaissance refers to a period of intense literary and artistic production emerging in Chicago after the Great Fire of 1871. Progressive novels, bold poetry, murky paintings, striking sculptures, and pioneering architecture together tell the story of a gritty, industrial, “city of big shoulders” that seemed to threaten the surrounding Midwestern prairie landscape, with its romantic veneration of nature and traditional small-town values. This course will examine a number of important Chicago-based authors and artists who shaped this era and the city’s artistic identity. We will read, view, and discuss a wide range of expressive forms—novels, poetry, painting, sculpture, architecture—to gain a deeper understanding of how Chicago has been artistically portrayed. More importantly, we will walk the city that inspired these artists, traveling in their footsteps to consider some of the locations that were important to them, and visiting a number of landmark institutions important for Chicago artists.

Chicago’s vibrant theatre scene is nationally renowned for many things – from the gritty realism of Steppenwolf and the dozens of storefront theatres around the city to the improv comedy at Second City to the excitement of new plays at Victory Gardens to the focus on women’s voices at Rivendell to the multi-ethnic voices at Silk Road Rising and Black Theatre Ensemble. In this class, you will attend many productions and meet with the people who make Chicago theatre – directors, designers, playwrights, and actors. And of course we’ll visit DePaul’s nationally acclaimed Theatre School.

Students in this section will need to keep Thursday nights open during Autumn Quarter in order to attend theatre performances as a class.

Chicago has a rich tradition of radicalism. In this class, we will explore a few of the city’s radical movements and people from the last one hundred and thirty years—German-American anarchists, African-American communists, Puerto Rican activists, and socialist feminists. As a system of belief, it is notoriously hard to pin down and assign a consistent meaning to the term radicalism. We will explore the varied ideas and actions of our chosen subjects so that we can ultimately explain what we mean when we label all of these groups as radical. This course will focus on four topics—the Haymarket riot, Richard Wright and African-American communism, the Young Lords in Lincoln Park, and the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union of the late 1960s and early 1970s. We will use a variety of different sources—web pages, primary source documents, novels, cemetery monuments, and videos—to explore these topics. In addition, students will do a variety of different types of writing exercises—informal individual journal writing, small group projects, and more formal individual papers.

For more than a century, Chicago has had a close relationship with the movies. In this course we will visit sites where films were made and where others were set. We will screen and study several Chicago films and meet some people who have been involved. The city’s film production history goes back to the silents, when Charlie Chaplin made a slapstick comedy here, and continues through the present with dramas such as Trial of the Chicago 7 and Judas and the Black Messiah. Chicago’s history has been reflected in many films including some that chronicle, and sometimes glorify, its gangster past. And during the 1980s, many classic film comedies came out of Chicago, including The Blues Brothers and the films of John Hughes. 

Note:  This class has an additional Friday afternoon “lab” session for movie screenings.

This class will discuss the Great War and how it affected Chicago. Our city like all of America, stood on the periphery of the Great War. However, the cataclysm of the war was so immense that places thousands of miles away from the conflict were transformed. This course will uncover the ways that the Great War defined Chicago history. We will discuss the war itself. We will consider how the war amped up Chicago as an industrial and food supply center, how it deepened fissures around ethnicities and race, and how it forced people to choose identities in new ways. The Great War defines the Chicago culture’s ethnic and racial relations and memorial practices in ways that are hidden but still important. Even though the war ended a century ago, the war still has a presence here that we will uncover.

Storytelling plays a vibrant role in Chicago’s cultural history. From 20th-century luminaries such as Gwendolyn Brooks and Nelson Algren to contemporary institutions including 826CHI, Louder Than a Bomb, and StoryCorps, how Chicagoans detail and share their experiences has been intricately tied to how they live. “Chicago Stories” allows students to embrace this rich tradition as they explore various forms of storytelling and its local venues in order to reveal how the art form enriches and reflects their experiences as students in and students of Chicago.

Chicago’s historic cemeteries are a great way to experience the city of Chicago and many of its contemporary neighborhoods, while also learning about the vital history of the city. Cemeteries in the mid-19th century became places where individuals, families, and communities took great pains to erect monuments and markers that reflected the socio-economic, racial, religious, ethnic, and gendered ideals of their day. Information about families, immigration, social networks, and religious and secular communities can be gleaned from these monuments as well as many other important themes in local and national history. This course will use Chicago cemeteries as a way of exploring themes in the social history of Chicago, while introducing students to a variety of neighborhoods in the city. Students will be introduced to interdisciplinary study of cemeteries using documentary and material evidence as well as site visits to local cemeteries and lectures from local experts. Through these activities and explorations, students will be able to understand how the city of Chicago grew over time as well as many of the important social dynamics that have shaped people’s lives in the city on a very personal scale.

We will not only read some of the most important Chicago literature, but we will also walk the places and spaces at the heart of these writings. We will explore a range of contemporary Chicago works about a variety of themes as diverse as urban nature and youth violence. We will also read books from contemporary Chicago writers such as Kevin Coval, Stuart Dybek, and Alex Kotlowitz. These different voices share common themes about Chicago’s immigrant experience, diversity, work life, and influence on those who grow up and grow old in the city. You will read critically and creatively, at times analyzing the texts’ style and themes, and at others using the texts as models for creating your own poem, short story, and essay about Chicago. Furthermore, we will venture into the city—taking inspiring walking/writing tours.