Liberal Studies Program > First-Year Program > Course Descriptions > Focal Point Seminar

Focal Point Seminar

Winter 2019 -- updated 1/4/2019
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LSP 112

Abraham Lincoln in Film

Mark Pohlad, History of Art & Architecture
LSP 112-201 Lincoln Park TTh 9:40-11:10

This course will examine the production and reception of Hollywood films about Abraham Lincoln including how the films reflect history, how they function as cultural artifacts, their place in the history of film, and their representation of women and African Americans. The class concentrates on four films—D. W. Griffith’s Lincoln (1930), John Ford’s Young Mr. Lincoln (1939), John Cromwell’s Abe Lincoln in Illinois (1940), and Steven Spielberg’s recent Lincoln (2012). Films with Lincoln characters will also be considered but with less emphasis, e.g., the Shirley Temple film The Littlest Rebel (1935), and Tim Burton’s Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2012). Through intensive reading, discussion, writing, and group work, students will engage the question: What do Hollywood films about Abraham Lincoln say about American culture—about us?​

Advertising in America: From A to Zuckerberg

Kenneth Krimstein, College of Communication
LSP 112-501 LOOP TTh 3:10-4:40

In many ways the history of advertising, especially in America, is the history of the development of modern technological society in the 20th Century. The move, from the earliest forms of “patent medicine” advertising, seen in “Huck Finn,” or “The Wizard of Oz,” for example, through the Yellow Press ads of the Hearst era, to early radio and mass communication, through mass magazines, television, into the digital age, is a reflection of the people, the times, and the struggle to make sense of the modern world. What worked? What didn’t work, and why? These questions reflect on American history, design, governmental regulation, writing, and creativity. Making connections between historical needs and wants introduces psychology, ethics, politics, economics, and business theory and practice. Through primary and secondary research and sources, as well as group oriented design projects, with a strong emphasis on the development of critical writing that embodies a personal tone of voice, the course will forge critical thinking, case-making, and innovative skills that will form the foundation of being not only a strong student, but also a thoughtful member of an ethical society.​

Anne Sexton: Confessional Poet

Laura Durnell, Writing, Rhetoric & Discourse
LSP 112-202 Lincoln Park MW 11:20-12:50

Our life stories and confessions define who we are and spotlight our aspirations. But most importantly, they can also lead us to discover our real selves and our true vocations. Often when Anne Sexton is mentioned, an individual’s first response to define her is “poet”; however, the study of Sexton offers a deeper understanding into the many concentrations of Liberal Studies and life overall. This Focal Point Seminar does not solely rely on the lens of literature. Instead, it focuses on Sexton’s art and life and questions how one’s life affects vocation and how vocation affects a person’s life as well as the lives of others. Students will be led to contemplate how professions in the arts, business, academics, religions, sciences, and political arenas relate to Sexton’s poetry and life. In addition, students will reflect on and connect their own life experiences and academic studies toward their future vocations. Along with the requirements of the seminar setting, course notebook, and final course essay, students will also have opportunities to present their own stories and confessions through their choice of non-fiction, fiction, visual or performance art, poetry, or music.​

Art & Sustainability

Mary Jane Duffy, Art, Media & Design
LSP 112-203 Lincoln Park TTh 2:40-4:10

We have all heard the terms, “Go green!”, “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” and probably even “Sustainable” but what do these catchy phrases really mean? Why are they important? Furthermore, what do these terms have to do with visual art? Our relationship with the environment is complex and becoming increasingly urgent. The field of sustainability is interdisciplinary, but this course will focus specifically on the fields of science, philosophy and contemporary art. We will examine what science tells us about the current and future state of the planet and how sustainability can help. We will consider how our philosophical ideas about nature affect what we do to the environment. We will also look at how contemporary visual art can question, explore and propose answers to problems of sustainability. Finally the class will reflect on an individual's role in the problems as well as possible solutions to sustainability.​

Art & Technology

Jeff Carter, Art, Media & Design
LSP 112-204 Lincoln Park TTh 9:40-11:10

This course will examine the presence and impact of technology in modern and contemporary visual art, exploring and defining “technology” from various perspectives and contexts. We will examine how and why many artists have utilized the technologies of medicine, communication, entertainment, industry and the military, how these various and often contradictory paradigms of technology are articulated by specific artworks, artistic practices and art movements of our time, and the degree to which technology exerts an influence over all aspects of visual art, from content and aesthetics to production, presentation, and the viewing experience.​

Chicago's Rebel Poet: Nelson Algren

Salli Berg Seeley, Writing, Rhetoric & Discourse
LSP 112-229 Lincoln Park MW 2:40-4:10

In Nelson Algren’s long, broken-hearted love poem to the city of Chicago he writes that “[i]t isn’t hard to love a town for its greater and its lesser towers, its pleasant parks… Or for its broad and bending boulevards… But you can never truly love it till you can love its alleys too.” Chicago: City on the Make was published as a slim volume in 1951, in the midst of the Post WWII McCarthy era. The country was rife with paranoia, convinced that Communist spies were lurking around every corner, and Soviet bombs were poised to drop on our soil at any moment. Any individual who varied from the prototype of a patriotic, mainstream American was viewed as suspect. In lyrical slang, Algren wrote his take on the history of Chicago, unearthing the city’s more unsavory past and declaring its present state desolate. He was an unabashed lefty nonconformist during a time in which conformity was not just highly valued, but seen as a means to maintain national security. We will be studying Chicago: City on the Make as a work of prose poetry, subjective history, and a political treatise celebrating nonconformity in a period in American history when submission to social and political conventions was the status quo.​

Cloning & Biotechnology

Two sections offered:

Terry Fitzpatrick, Biological Sciences
LSP 112-205 Lincoln Park MW 8:00-9:30

Jessica Pamment, Biological Sciences
LSP 112-206 Lincoln Park MW 11:20-12:50

Cloning, Gene Therapy, and DNA Evidence are topics frequently in the news today. The goal of this course is to teach the biological underpinning of this field and how this basic biological knowledge has led to the seemingly magical ramifications we hear about in the headlines. Topics to be covered will include: how cells code, decode, and transmit information through DNA; basic methods of studying and manipulating DNA; methods of modifying the DNA of organisms; and biotechnological applications of these principles and their impact and regulation. Source materials will include first person accounts by principal investigators in the field, as well as critical assessments of the risks associated with this new technology.​

Comics & Culture

Jason Winslade, Writing, Rhetoric & Discourse
LSP 112-207 Lincoln Park F 12:00-3:15

The culture of comic books, while always popular, has become much less of a fringe phenomenon in recent years, due in no small part to the recent explosion of superhero films and the centrality of Comic-Con in San Diego. In this course, we will look at the history of the medium of the comic book and its influence, both positive and negative, on youth culture in America. We will examine how comics began to be taken more seriously in the 1980s as “graphic novels” and how the popular imagination has since utilized comic book culture as a way to productively fantasize, redefine identity, particularly with regards to gender, race and class, challenge contemporary values and raise issues through readership, creative content, fandom and cosplay. Though we will focus primarily on the superhero genre, we will also examine other genres such as the personal memoir, as well as independent work from prominent authors. Students will be welcome to bring their own preferences and interests to the class to explore more deeply the material that provokes their own fandom, through readings, discussions, creative projects and a field trip to the C2E2 convention.​

The Cultural Politics of Disney

Aaron Lefkovitz, History
LSP 112-209 Lincoln Park MW 9:40-11:10

As an industry, Disney has been well placed to meet the needs of contemporary culture as it commands a respectable place in the leisure industry, fulfills consumer demands, provides services people desire, and employs legions of workers. In this course, we will explore Disney as an enterprise, employer, tourist location, progenitor of cultural myths and symbols, and centrality to the transnational cultural politics of race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, class, nation, popular music, and visual culture. A series of key questions will unify our discussion of Disney, including: what does Disney produce, how it can be defined, whether it is fun, and if so, what is the nature of pleasure in contemporary culture, is it good business, and if so, what type of business is it and what makes it good, if Disney is just fantasy, and if so, how does it pertain to the manufacture of reality and fantasy in contemporary culture, if Disney is just for kids, and if so, what is the nature of childhood, what does watching Disney’s visual texts teach us, is watching a form of consumerism, if so, what are we consuming, is consuming a passive act, and if so, why do we spend money on a passive act, and what do we get in return, what kinds of myths Disney sells, do these myths need to be accountable to the broader culture and its histories, and what do these myths say about US and transnational cultures and histories?​

Custer, Crazy Horse & Sitting Bull

Robert Meyer, English
LSP 112-210 Lincoln Park TTh 1:00-2:30

On June 25, 1876, a pivotal event in American history, and specifically in the history of interactions between Native Americans and Americans of European heritage, took place. On this occasion, the U.S. Seventh Cavalry, commanded by Lt. Colonel George Armstrong Custer, was defeated by Sioux and Cheyenne warriors—led by Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull, among others—in what is now southern Montana. Sometimes referred to as the Battle of the Little Bighorn, Custer’s Last Stand, or The Battle of the Greasy Grass (a translation of the Sioux name for the location), this incident has been the subject of numerous debates, several films and countless books and articles. In this course, we will examine what is known about the major players, the cultural context and the historical ramifications of this remarkable confrontation. In so doing, we will strive to increase our understanding of 19th century America, and to develop insight about the cultural, political and other forces that shape our views of the past and the present.​

Disney's World

Janelle Walker, First-Year Program
LSP 112-502 LOOP MW 1:30-3:00

The influence of Disney in shaping American culture from the 1950’s onward is undeniable. In this course, we will explore the depths and subtleties of this influence by looking at selected original Disney “texts” – movies, characters, theme parks, attractions, merchandise, and official publications – from the perspectives of several disciplines. Starting from a historical perspective, we will see not only how Disney’s development has been affected by historical and political movements in the US, but also how Disney has portrayed these movements and historical figures, and the complicated relationship between changing times and changing Disney texts. Through the lens of Gender Studies, we will look at Disney’s treatment of femininity, masculinity, and sexuality, while Disney portrayals of race, ethnicity, and world cultures will be examined from a Cultural/American Studies perspective. Readings and class discussions will explore how American worldview in general is shaped by Disney creations. Lastly, we will look at the influence of Disney architecture and design on “real” urban spaces and the built environment. How do “Main Street USA” at Walt Disney World and Disney’s utopian town of Celebration influence our thinking about our own towns and cities? How and why has the Disney model of clean, uncomplicated tourism spread to so many other American sites?​

Dreams & Dreamers

Mary Jeanne Larrabee, Philosophy
LSP 112-211 Lincoln Park TTh 8:00-9:30

Dreaming is an activity that happens everywhere, possibly to everyone. The course will question the nature of this activity and its relevance in the lives of individuals. It will look at writings from the early Greeks to contemporary writers, drawing from philosophers, religious studies scholars, neuroscientists, anthropologists, and psychological theorists in order to study the many different explanations of why we dream. The course will also raise the question concerning the nature of dreamers, given one’s understanding of dreams: For instance, if we consider dreams to be the result of biochemical events in the brain, does this mean human beings are nothing but biological organisms? The study of dreams through intellectual theories will be complemented by the use of an experiential method for understanding dreams, one rooted in individual experience, called Experiential Focusing; this method will allow us to study the possibly differing results of interpretation through the intellect with theory and through an embodied self.

The End of the World: Texts & Contexts

Sara Pevar, Writing, Rhetoric & Discourse
LSP 112-212 Lincoln Park MW 4:20-5:50

It feels like we are living in Apocalyptic times—but really, doesn’t it always? In this course, students will explore the ways that human beings have considered, understood, and, especially, written about the end of the world from early recorded history all the way until the present day. This exploration will be organized around a series of texts: books, poems, films, religious documents, and works of art that people throughout history have created to grapple with the means and meaning of our ultimate end. As we discuss each text, we will also draw from the disciplines of history and philosophy to place each one in its proper context—to understand it not only as a work, but as both an artifact of its time and a vehicle for philosophical exploration of broader questions.

FIFA & the World Cup

Philip Meyers, Political Science
LSP 112-213 Lincoln Park TTh 2:40-4:10

When it comes to quadrennial sports celebrations, the modern Summer Olympics paved the way, with nations and competitors uniting to demonstrate great athletic ability for the world to see—and with medals awarded to the best. That wildly innovative idea was quickly and globally embraced, soon thereafter triggering a new “team-sport” entity known as the World Cup. Hosted initially by Uruguay in 1930, soccer’s World Cup was spawned. Its concept followed the Olympics, contested once every four years, and evolved into the planet’s most glorious event. The World Cup is about countries who battle, over one month’s time, to achieve immortal greatness, with an entire nation welcoming 32 qualifying teams within its borders and allowing millions to savor soccer’s different cultures. Students will study the World Cup’s origin, history and future—from a sole soccer festival to a showcase that facilitates players’ careers, endorsements and branding as well. After grasping the tournament’s history, students will delve into both the economics and politics of the World Cup—why host nations are selected, and what are the defining reasons of those decisions. Is it to “expand” the game, or might there be deeper factors? Politics, corruption, racism, sexuality, anti-Semitism and economics are only several factors why a country is granted custodianship of sports’ crown jewel competition. Concluding our study, the class will effectuate a simulated bidding to become a future tournament host, absorbing all the factors learned over the quarter. That exercise will culminate with student submitting a writing that focuses on the effects in that country’s perspective, and soccer as a whole.

Food & Politics

Cathy May, Political Science
LSP 112-214 Lincoln Park TTh 1:00-2:30

This course explores the relationships and connections between food and politics. Politics may be defined as “who gets, what, when, why, and how.” This definition points to the underlying power relationships inherent in the political. To study the politics of food is to study the power relationships involving food. In other words, food may be understood as a type of language, reflecting cultural values, political practices, ideological perspectives, and the socialization process. Through an investigation of food, students will be able to explore the world of politics.

FY@China: Environmental Challenges in the 21st Century

Phillip Stalley, Political Science
LSP 112-250 Lincoln Park TTh 11:20-12:50

STUDY ABROAD: PERMISSION REQUIRED. This is an FY@broad section, taken with a required 2-credit Study Abroad component (ANT 397) during spring break. For full information, visit the Study Abroad website here. APPLICATION DEADLINE: November 1, 2018​.

Since opening its doors to the outside world in 1978, no country has climbed the economic ladder as quickly as China. Although this rapid growth has lifted a quarter of a billion people out of poverty and returned China to prominence on the international stage, it has also placed a tremendous strain on the natural environment. In terms of air pollution, sixteen of the twenty most polluted cities in the world are in China. Over two-thirds of Chinese cities suffer from water shortages. The concern of many both inside and outside of China is that the current rate of environmental damage is not sustainable and threatens to reverse many of the achievements of the recent decades. This program will introduce you to China and, in particular, familiarize you with the causes and consequences of China’s environmental challenge. We will visit Beijing, China’s political and cultural capital, whose rich history dates back more than 3,000 years. During our nine-day stay, we will meet with environmental experts and average citizens so that you can better appreciate the Chinese perspective on environmental protection. We will also explore neighborhoods, visit museums, and tour some of China’s most famous cultural sites such as the Great Wall, Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City, and Summer Palace. You will leave the program with a better understanding of the world’s most important rising power and the challenges it faces as it seeks to cement its role as a 21st century superpower.
  • ​Honors Program students will receive credit for an Honors Approved Elective.​​​​

FY@Ireland: Travel Literature

Barbara Schaffer, Women's & Gender Studies
LSP 112-251 Lincoln Park TTh 5:15-6:45 PM

STUDY ABROAD: PERMISSION REQUIRED. This is an FY@broad section, taken with a required 2-credit Study Abroad component (ANT 397) during spring break. For full information, visit the Study Abroad website here. APPLICATION DEADLINE: November 1, 2018​.

For this program, students will look at the many reasons people travel and write about their experiences. We will read, and of course, write, about the journey we will take to Ireland and the journeys you have taken. Our particular focus will be on travel literature on The Republic of Ireland. What is it that makes people want to travel to there? How is it imagined in our minds, and what do we hope to find when we go there? These are some of the questions we will be asking, as we read classic and contemporary pieces of travel writing during winter quarter. And then, we will experience and retrace some of the very steps of those travel writers, as we explore Ireland on our own. We'll visit sites such as Trinity College, Doolin (the center of traditional music), Sligo (the center of “Yeats country”), and more. We will have guest lecturers, explore remnants of early Irish history, and stay in a castle, to name a few of our activities.
  • ​Honors Program students will receive credit for an Honors Fine Arts Elective.​

FY@Jordan: Encounters with the Past

Warren Schultz, History
LSP 112-252 Lincoln Park TTh 9:40-11:10

STUDY ABROAD: PERMISSION REQUIRED. This is an FY@broad section, taken with a required 2-credit Study Abroad component (ANT 397) during spring break. For full information, visit the Study Abroad website here. APPLICATION DEADLINE: November 1, 2018​.

The land of Jordan is an excellent case study for exploring the myriad ways we can study the human experience over the long term. While the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is a modern development—its borders were drawn, negotiated, and contested in a series of well-known events of the twentieth century—the land area found within these modern borders contains physical remains of many major currents of human history and development. Within these borders, early humans domesticated plants, Bronze-age societies built megalithic burial structures, the early Hebrews caught their first sight of their promised land, the Nabataeans carved enormous tombs into the red sandstone cliffs of Petra, the Hellenistic Greeks and later the empire-building Romans built cities and commercial empires, the Byzantine Christians built churches and monasteries to commemorate the major events and people of early Christianity, the first Muslims conquered and brought Arab-Islamic culture, Crusaders built castles to defend their Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, the Ottomans incorporated its resources into their large empire, and the modern currents of imperialism and nationalism whether based in currents of Jewish, Arab, or Muslim thought buffeted the region in the twentieth century. After studying this long narrative in our Focal Point Seminar, we will fly to Jordan to explore the locations where these events happened. We will draw upon the disciplinary approaches of Anthropology, Archaeology, Art and Art History, Geography, History, and Religious Studies to help us to understand what we are studying, seeing, and exploring.
  • ​Honors Program students will receive credit for HON 102: History in Global Contexts.​​

Gambling & Games of Chance

William Chin, Mathematical Sciences
LSP 112-801 Lincoln Park M 6:00-9:15 PM

Two of the popular played games of chance are blackjack (twenty-one) and poker. These games form the most interesting examples of games of chance where risky decisions can profitably be made based on probability theory and game theory. Of particular interest is the theory and practice of card-counting in blackjack, and the mathematics and psychology of poker strategy. We shall deal with the basics of such analyses and indicate how they have been developed. Some requisite rudimentary probability theory statistics and their foundations will be introduced. The theory shall be reified with examples, concrete problems and live play, all tied in with mathematical and psychological theory. We will examine these and other games of chance, focusing on how they are played with positive expectation (or not). Fallacies regarding gambling and their psychological bases will be discussed in the context of games, and generalized to other decision-making processes. Moral, cultural and legal issues surrounding gambling will also be addressed.

Godzilla vs. Them: Comparing Cultures through Pop-Culture Icons

Larry Mayo, Anthropology
LSP 112-802 Lincoln Park T 6:00-9:15PM

Is cultural diversity diminishing as a consequence of globalization? This question will be addressed by attempting to understand cultural similarity and difference between America and Japan; but instead of focusing on traditional cultural themes such as politics, religion or economics, the focus of this course will be on idioms of popular culture. Disciplines through with analysis will be conducted include anthropology, Japanese studies, history, and film studies. The methods of comparing aspects of popular culture from American and Japanese culture will focus on films, monster movies/science fiction in particular.

Harry Potter & the Hero's Journey

Christine Reyna, Psychology
LSP 112-216 Lincoln Park MW 9:40-11:10

​This course will explore what many consider the most timeless and universal myth of the “hero’s journey” through the stories of Harry Potter. The Hero’s Journey (Campbell, 1949) is at the heart of most major mythologies and religions the world over. Its universal themes present a roadmap for personal and spiritual transformation from innocence, to call to action, challenge, abyss, revelation, transformation and ultimately rebirth. Through examining and discussing the stories and characters of Harry Potter we will deeply dissect the stages of the hero’s journey and compare these themes with other myths and stories from ancient civilizations, classic literature and popular culture to examine how these themes reflect the human experience in modern times and how they have remained timeless. In this process, students will have the opportunity to explore their own lives and reflect on how literature can serve as a guide to their own personal journey of transformation and initiation. Note: Students are expected to be familiar with the seven books in the Harry Potter series before the start of class.​​

Harry Potter: Welcome to Hogwarts

Heather Easley, Sociology
LSP 112-217 Lincoln Park TTh 9:40-11:10

One of the most successful book series of all time is more than just a book series, as we will examine in this course. J.K. Rowling’s masterpiece, “Harry Potter” provides readers with the opportunity to examine a fictional world through the lens of modern disciplines. We will examine our own interpretations of the world of Harry Potter through the disciplines of Sociology, Philosophy, Religion, and Business. As Harry Potter has taken on a life of its own within our Muggle world, we’re able to see the impact such a work has on today’s economic and religious climate. We will also discuss the content of the literature with a focus on gender, family, stratification, poverty, the idea of destiny, love, identity, choice, and the classic and ultimately important, good vs. evil.

Hollywood's Golden Year, 1939

Douglas Long, College of Communication
LSP 112-218 Lincoln Park MW 9:40-11:10 plus LAB: F 12:30-3:00

For decades, film writers have identified 1939 as the “greatest year” of Hollywood filmmaking, largely due to the high number of classic films released that year, including Gone with the Wind, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Stagecoach, and The Wizard of Oz. As scholars, we can use these films as texts to study in a number of ways. From historical perspectives, we can look at these films in relation to the Great Depression that preceded them and the world war which was already brewing in Europe while the U.S. was questioning its neutrality status. From sociological and gender studies perspectives, we can trace the portrayal of non-white and female characters in an era where those social roles were seen much differently than today. And from film scholarship, we can see this as the height of the studio system, where filmmaking was churned out in factories modeled on Henry Ford’s assembly lines and where new technologies like Technicolor were bursting onto the scene. And the “factory” workers included some of the most iconic film actors of all time: Clark Gable, Bette Davis, Cary Grant, Greta Garbo, James Cagney, Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney, Henry Fonda, James Stewart, Laurel & Hardy, W.C. Fields, etc.
  • ​This section has a Friday “lab” period for film screenings.​

Human Rights, Social Justice & Memory in Latin America

Maria Masud, Modern Languages
LSP 112-219 Lincoln Park TTh 2:40-4:10

​The recent history of Latin America has been marked by cycles of political and social repression. The “dirty war” in Argentina, the military coup in Chile, the “death squads” in Central America, and others have generated a rich document¬ation of books, articles, films, and desperate public calls for justice, e.g., the mothers of the Plaza de Mayo. These diverse sources seek to explain how those repressive forces overthrew democratically elected governments, and the short and long term consequences of these actions for civil society. Likewise, they document the attempts by groups and individuals in those respective societies to find processes that would bring justice to the individuals directly and indirectly affected by the repression.

The Inquisition in History, Literature & Film

Ana Schaposchnik, History
LSP 112-220 Lincoln Park TTh 11:20-12:50

This class will address the academic study of the Inquisition in Spain, Portugal and their American colonies, as well as representations of this institution in literature and film. When was the Inquisition created? For how long were the tribunals active? In what aspect was the Inquisition trial different from a secular trial at the same place and time? What are the differences between Medieval and Modern? Are literary depictions of the Inquisition accurate? What about movies? These questions will be answered in this course, through a combination of readings (primary/secondary sources), discussions, analysis of visual materials, and written assignments.​​​

The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: Prospects for Peace

Daniel Kamin, International Studies
LSP 112-221 Lincoln Park TTh 1:00-2:30

In this course, we will study the conflict between modern Jewish nationalism and Palestinian nationalism in its many aspects by examining issues of roots and causes as well as the prospects for peace. Wider issues involving the Arab and Islamic world and the Jewish community will be explored for their impact on this conflict. Efforts at conflict resolution will be examined through exposure to diverse points of view. The course seeks to synthesize an examination of religion, nationalism, and ethnic identity in order to gain some insight into the possibilities for a peaceful resolution.

Ivan the Terrible

Brian Boeck, History
LSP 112-222 Lincoln Park MW 11:20-12:50

​This course is devoted to Ivan the Terrible, the Russian ruler whose reputation for cruelty became legendary. Class discussions will explore both the historical tsar and the mythical figure who casts a long shadow over Russian and European discourse about kingship. Readings will draw upon insights from multiple disciplines (history, folkloristics, psychology, political science and film studies). Students will read Russian primary sources in translation (chronicle excerpts, the history attributed to the renegade prince Kurbsky, and church documents) and primary sources in English (reports of English merchants and travelers in Russia). Secondary sources will be employed to pursue connections to broader themes such as tyranny, reli¬gious authority, autocracy, politics, and violence. The problems of evaluating and interpreting oral, folk traditions about Ivan will also be considered. Finally, Sergei Eisenstein’s classic film about Ivan will be analyzed in the context of a significant reappraisal of Ivan’s legacy in the age of another all-powerful ruler, Joseph Stalin.

James Joyce & Samuel Beckett: Dubliners in Paris

David Gardiner, English
LSP 112-223 Lincoln Park MW 2:40-4:10

This course explores the complex relationship between two major writers of the twentieth century, the Dubliners James Joyce and Samuel Beckett. It studies a sample of their works, from critical essays, to short stories, to novels, and plays in order to grasp the continuities and contradictions within both authors’ oeuvres. This course examines Joyce and Beckett’s relationship and the ways in which the two predominantly defined modern and postmodern writing. In addition, we will focus on Dublin at the turn-of-the-century and Paris in the late 1920s and 1940s, a time when both were living as “Irish cosmopolitans” in France. In addition to grasping the absorbing literary cultures of both Dublin and Paris, we will address the significance of both authors’ works – works which question the elevated and the everyday, the difficulty of communication and writing, the habits of our daily life, and the nature of our existence. This intertextual course combines history, biography, literary and philosophical inquiry asking such questions as: What is the nature modern literature? What significance does “exile” contribute to art? What constitutes modernist/postmodern writing? What is the lasting influence of these authors on contemporary literature? Wherever possible, coursework will be sup¬plemented with multimedia materials, including plays, films and interactive works.

Jerusalem: The Making of a Holy City

Lisa Mahoney, History of Art & Architecture
LSP 112-236 Lincoln Park TTh 4:20-5:50

This class looks at 3000 years of life in the city of Jerusalem. In particular, it looks at major historical moments that occasioned surprising creations in this place. We will begin with great biblical kings, and the city they founded and fortified, moving through the magnificent building campaigns of Roman, Christian, and Islamic rule, and end with the modern religious and political conditions that led to the divided city Jerusalem is today, and the way those conditions map onto this space and motivate artistic output. There are few cities in the world like this one, defined by continuous habitation from the earliest moments of human settlement and by literary and material culture of unsurpassed variety and force. We will understand it as such through a revealing combination of primary and secondary materials belonging to the disciplines of archaeology, history, art history, and literature.​​​

The Legacy of Rome

Michael Tafel, History
LSP 112-503 LOOP TTh 11:50-1:20

​Even after the fall of the Roman Empire its influence continues to affect later generations. From the “Holy Roman Empire” to the revolutionary era of Alexander Hamilton and Napoleon, and from the Florentine Republic to Mussolini’s Fascism, Rome’s influence has persevered and still resonates with us today. Students will be challenged to access the magnitude in which ancient Rome really had an effect on these eras through a variety of primary and secondary sources. In addition to political and intellectual influences, we will also observe how ancient Rome affected the art of later generations as well as our ideas of modern society and culture.


Scott Moringiello, Catholic Studies
LSP 112-225 Lincoln Park TTh 9:40-11:10

​If we were to point to what is most important in our lives, we would point to the things we love. Yet we would also be hard pressed to define love. In this course, we will explore love in representative texts from literature, philosophy, and Christian theology. We will also explore how these texts continue to influence contemporary authors.

Machiavelli: His Words & His World

Caterina Mongiat Farina, Modern Languages
LSP 112-226 Lincoln Park TTh 11:20-12:50

Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527) is arguably one of the most controversial writers of the Western canon. For example his Discourses, a commentary on Livy’s Histories that praise the Roman Republic in opposition to the later Empire, have been hailed as the forerunners of modern democracy, while his political pamphlet The Prince has been condemned as the ideological root of twentieth century totalitarianisms. According to Albert Russell Ascoli, such polarized readings result from the common mistake of isolating Machiavelli’s writings from their historical context and changing “his always qualified, always historically grounded precepts into abstract, universal rules of conduct.” Through the close reading of a number of Machiavelli’s writings, from his infamous The Prince to his comedy The Mandrake Root, from his Florentine Histories to his Letters, and with the aid of leading Renaissance scholars, this course aims at giving students the opportunity to understand and interpret Machiavelli’s thought in its historical context. Although the course and its texts are all in English, students will have the chance to familiarize them​selves with a few famous terms and passages in the original Italian texts.

Martin Luther King & Malcolm X: Friends or Foes?

Christina Rivers, Political Science
LSP 112-227 Lincoln Park MW 2:40-4:10

For most Americans, Martin Luther King Jr. symbolizes the non-violent struggle to overcome racial injustice not only in the South, but across the nation and throughout the world. While King was indeed relentlessly committed to racial equality, his views on how to achieve that goal were far more complex than most Americans either realize or remember. For many Americans, Malcolm X symbolized a militant struggle for racial equality and black power “by any means necessary,” including violent resistance. While Malcolm X was initially skeptical about peaceful resistance to violent racial oppression, his views were also more complex than many realize. In order to appreciate both of these leaders as well as their legacies, we must familiarize ourselves with the full scope of their views on dissent, democracy and race – a scope that extends well beyond their most commonly known speeches and writings. This course will concentrate on the evolution of M.L. King’s and Malcolm X’s views on race during the short-but-significant period between the early 1960s until 1968.

The Mystery of the Middle Ages

Lucia Marchi, Modern Languages
LSP 112-228 Lincoln Park MW 1:00-2:30

Solve a 14th-century mystery with your knowledge of medieval history, politics, philosophy and art! This course is based on world-renowned Italian semiotician and writer Umberto Eco’s mystery novel The Name of the Rose. Written in 1980, the book became an instant best-seller thanks to its intriguing story and the richness of historical, philosophical and scriptural citations. In the class, we will enjoy the unfolding of the plot while also decoding the dense web of references with units on the arts, the idea of sacred and profane love, politics and philosophy in the Middle Ages. After having read The Name of the Rose as a representation of the past, we will also consider it as a product of our own time. As a splendid example of a postmodern novel, the book leaves us with only fragments of truth, which the reader can reassemble according to a multiplicity of interpretations.

The Nature of Evil

Ted Anton, English
LSP 112-238 Lincoln Park MW 2:40-4:10

Where does evil come from? Why does it exist? What is its nature precisely? Why are villains so interesting? The question “does God exist?” precedes only by philosophical seconds the inquiries above. The relationship between these questions invites us to take an analytical scalpel to the social, artistic, philosophical, historical, psychological, and theological significance of evil. In this course, students will analyze and explains texts such as the Bible, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Breaking Bad and Gone Girl, in a quest to understand why good people go bad.

Nuclear Waste Disposal: The NIMBY Dilemma of the 21st Century

Kelly Tzoumis, Public Policy Studies
LSP 112-230 ONLINE/HYBRID MW 1:00-2:30

The safe disposal of our nuclear waste in the United States has become a NIMBY ("not in my backyard") problem causing a significant public policy dilemma – how should we dispose of nuclear waste in the United States? Nuclear waste is continuously being generated by nuclear power plants, weapons facilities, and other generators like hospitals, pharmaceutical companies and research institutions. This course will explore the public policy problems posed for disposing of this waste and discuss the environmental, safety and health as well as the political and ethical implications. Environmental justice issues impacting Native Americans will be included. Nuclear waste disposal policies that are covered in the course include low-level, transuranic, and high-level nuclear waste. Students will be required to compare information in tone, quality and accuracy from a variety of both primary and secondary sources.
  • ​Thi​s section will meet via video-conference at the scheduled times.​

Performance Art: Body & Self

Gagik Aroutiunian, Art, Media & Design
LSP 112-231 Lincoln Park MW 1:00-2:30

This course will introduce students to Performance Art with a special emphasis on artists whose work has explored the relationship between the body and self. A brief history of Performance Art in the 20th Century will be surveyed in order to provide a context for understanding the main focus of the course, an examination of selected contemporary performance artists who create interdisciplinary hybrid forms (incorporating sound, movement, text, experimental theatre, sculpture, photography, electronic media) that explore the properties and limits of the human body and the self and identity within the context of contemporary social, cultural, political and economic factors. The list of possible subjects for examination includes such prominent artists as Joseph Beuys, Marina Abramovic, Matthew Barney, Orlan, Ana Mendieta, Stelarc, Guillermo Gomez-Peña, and others. Intensive reading, discussions, demonstrations, research papers and a final group performance project will be the components of this class.

The Philosophy of Chess

Daniel Rosiak, Philosophy
LSP 112-239 Lincoln Park TTh 11:20-12:50

There is a great deal of interesting culture and theoretical problems surrounding the game of chess, and it is beneficial for critical thinking to learn to play the game of chess and to improve one's play. No chess experience is required for taking this course. We will undoubtedly have students in the course at all levels of play (including beginners and some who may be better players than the instructor). In the first week we will learn the basics of the game and also certain techniques for thinking about the game, and we will help each other to improve throughout the quarter. We will spend the first part of each class meeting playing chess, and working on chess problems, “backwards chess” problems, notation, etc. In most classes the instructor will present a brief lecture and guide discussion on some aspect of chess and its relation to philosophical, cultural, and other theoretical questions. Among the theoretical issues we will deal with are chess in relation to artificial intelligence and the nature of computation; some connections between chess and fundamental results in logic and pressing questions in mathematics; some more philosophical questions surrounding the nature of “rule-following”; analogies between chess and military strategies; the history of the game as it relates to certain political and cultural issues and events; comparison to other games (like Go) and looking at their respective “philosophies.”​​​

The Psychology of Fairy Tales

​​Guillemette Johnston, Modern Languages
LSP 112-232 Lincoln Park TTh 1:00-2:30

With a strong emphasis on a literary approach, this course proposes to analyze fairy tales of diverse cultures in light of their psychological significance. Using theoretical perspectives developed from Jungian and Freudian psychology, we will bring out, on one hand, the basic role of fairy tales in portraying the development of individual maturity, and, on the other hand, the typical though universal themes found repeatedly in tales from different cultures.

The Puerto Rican Experience

Jesse Mumm, Latin American & Latino Studies
LSP 112-233 Lincoln Park MW 9:40-11:10

The Puerto Rican Experience examines the island of Puerto Rico and the Puerto Rican diaspora through the lens of the unequal colonial relationship, “belonging to, but not a part of, the United States.” We will examine US intervention since 1898, how migration began in the early twentieth century, and what shapes Puerto Rican communities in the US. The smallest and furthest east of the Greater Antilles, Puerto Rico boasts a legacy of African, indigenous and Spanish inheritances—well known, for example, in the global presence of salsa music. We will look at El Barrio in New York City, recent growth in Florida, and showcase how Chicago is a national center for Puerto Rican pride, politics, arts and culture, where gentrification threatens the pedacito de patria [little bit of homeland] on Division Street in Humboldt Park. We examine legacies of political repression and resistance, the current debate on its status and sovereignty, migration history, early settlement, ongoing transnational life, and consider what the Puerto Rican experience means to those who live it.

Religious Liberty & the American Experiment

James Halstead, Religious Studies
LSP 112-505 LOOP TTh 1:30-3:00

On May 4, 2017, President Donald Trump signed an Executive Order "... promoting free speech and religious liberty." (The order does not define "religious liberty.") In this Focal Point Seminar, students will study 1) the history of what is now in the United states popularly called the "separation of church and state" and 2) the emergence and development of the concept of "religious liberty." Beginning with the Code of Hammurabi, we will examine several understandings of religious and civil authority, appropriate political structures, the relationship between religio-moral and civil laws and various notions of "religious freedom/liberty." After an historical survey, concentration will be on the Constitution of the United States and several Supreme Court Cases that apply the Constitution to particular religio-moral issues (e.g. polygamy, religious faith and fraud, interracial and same-sex marriage, various sexual activities, just and unjust discrimination based on religious belief, etc.). The course will conclude with 1) a consideration of laws regarding physician-assisted-death (PAD), 2) the religio-ethical beliefs that under-gird those laws and 3) the creation of a proposed Illinois statue regarding PAD.​

School Choice: Choose Wisely

Ellen Van, Driehaus College of Business
LSP 112-803 Lincoln Park W 6:00-9:15 PM

This course uses an interdisciplinary approach to examine the issues of school choice in American education. We will explore questions/debates regarding school choice from the perspectives of economics, history, and sociology. We will examine the following topics: benefits of education; brief history of U.S. education; current education system; rationale for school choice; types of school choice; and implementation of school choice. For each topic, we will explore relevant theories, methodologies, findings, prospective research topics, and policy implications through readings, students’ writings, and through small and large group discussions and presentations. This class will improve students’ abilities to read about current events in the press and to understand the issues the major debates regarding school choice in education.

State Use of Violence

Jumana Khalifeh, Public Policy Studies
LSP 112-235 Lincoln Park TTh 8:00-9:30

This course examines two critical concepts: the state and violence. First, we will engage normative debates over the state as defeating or overcoming violence versus the state as normalizing and deepening violence. Second, we will explore two significant labor conflicts/strikes that occurred in Chicago during the Gilded Age (late 19th century): the Haymarket bombing and trial and the Pullman strike. Examining these two events in depth and comparing them with other labor conflicts and protest/events will provide an empirical base for thinking about the government’s use of violence and coercion. The course will conclude with trajectories of state practices, especially current discussions about a transition from sovereign to post‐sovereign modes of ​identity, power, and subjectivity. A comparison of the Gilded Age with contemporary society, with what some commentators have dubbed the “second Gilded Age,” will challenge us to think about our democratic principles; who has benefited from it; and who has borne the costs? What are the similarities and differences in the state’s use of violence and coercion during the two Gilded Ages? We will incorporate historical accounts through both primary and secondary sources; sociological concepts of social order and social control; political science concepts of democracy and anarchy; and legal writings on appropriate government use of violence and coercion.

Stories of Adventure, Risk & Peril

James Phelps, English
LSP 112-237 Lincoln Park TTh 4:20-5:50

Audiences have always been intrigued by stories of individuals who venture into the wilderness, some never to return. Surveying narratives within the disciplines of literature and film, this course will introduce students to fictional and actual stories of life-and-death struggle in extreme environments. Students will also consider articles from the fields of psychology and risk management to better understand why some people live and some people die in high-stress situations. Finally, students will thi​nk critically about why these often brutal stories of human suffering, success, and failure are a source of entertainment.​​​

Wonders, Cons & Scandals

David Brenders, College of Communication
LSP 112-504 LOOP MW 10:10-11:40​​

In this course we will investigate a number of fringe or alternative beliefs & how well they hold up under rational or scientific scrutiny. Whether it be alien abduction, satanic cults, fortune-telling, ESP, psychic healing, spontaneous human combustion, or the like, your favorite fringe belief will be discussed. An added benefit of the course will be to show the student how to be a more informed judge of the claims of others.

Information about Spring 2018 courses (Focal Point Seminars, FY@broad, Explore Chicago).
View course descriptions of each individual section:

Focal Point Seminar

Academic Year 2017–2018
Winter 2018: Focal Point Seminars (Updated 1/2/2018) WQ 2017
Spring 2018: Focal Point Seminars (Updated 3/9/2018) SQ 2017
FY@broad 2018 (Updated 12/11/2017) FY@broad 2017