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First-Year Studies

Course Descriptions


FIYS 196 American Playwrights in Chicago   

Ben Goluboff

Chicago is home to a vivid and diverse theater scene that includes everything from tiny stages in the back rooms of bars to glitzy Broadway-style productions.  This course will examine a selection of American-authored plays from the Chicago season as the materials for an introduction to literary studies.  As such, the course considers the plays we see and read as an occasion to develop skills in critical thinking, research, and writing.  A secondary objective is to connect the various plays to particular moments or themes in American history and culture.  We will proceed from the acquisition of a simple critical vocabulary for describing a play’s form and content, through character study, to more complex questions of the director’s decisions in taking a play from the page to the stage. 

FIYS 164 - Archaeology of Chicago

Rebecca Graff

This course provides an introduction to the discipline of archaeology by exploring the city of Chicago, using to discuss and to engage with the social complexity found in urban America. Archaeology, a disciplinary subfield of anthropology, considers the material traces of human behaviors. Urban archaeological research looks at the complex interrelation of materiality and the documentary record, revealing everyday experiences and social relations at several levels. Through the lens of archaeology, we will cover Chicago as important stop along a prehistoric trail system, its place as a multicultural fur trade entrepôt, the attention from the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, and its current preeminence as a global city. Readings cover foundational concepts in archaeology, an introduction to historical archaeology, historical background on Chicago, and comparative urban case studies. Visits to current and future sites of archaeological excavations will be complemented with work on the preliminary archaeological assessment of a Chicago site

FIYS 135 - Birthing and Dying in Chicago: 1850 to the present

Catherine S. Weidner

This course will examine the complex answers to a simple question: who lives, who dies and why? How are life and death issues defined and who decides what constitutes a threat to public health and safety? Focusing on Chicago, students will study the social, political, environmental and economic factors that have impacted the city’s demographic patterns over the last 150 years. From the outbreak of the first cholera epidemic in 1854, Chicago has faced many public health crises. Race, ethnicity, sexual orientation and class continue to impact birth and death rates in Chicago. Topics will include early battles to provide birth control and family planning, the polio epidemic, ethical and legal responses to the AIDS crisis of the 1980s and current efforts to define gun violence and related deaths as a public health issue. Guest speakers and field trips will supplement class meetings and readings

FIYS 119 - Chicago Media Industries 

Camille Yale

Over the last 170 years, Chicago has been home to a diverse and vibrant set of media industries. From the founding of the Chicago Tribune in 1847, to the production of iconic films like Ferris Buehler’s Day Off in the 1980s, to the current boom in television production started by Dick Wolf’s Chicago Fire franchise in 2012, there is no doubt that Chicago has made an indelible mark on the U.S. media landscape. In this class, we will examine the history, policies, and practices of Chicago media industries, including print, film, radio, and television. We will also look at the way Chicago media industries have been impacted by larger political and economic trends, such as new media’s effect on the newspaper industry, and growing international competition for Hollywood investment, known as “runaway production.” This course will include a field trip to a Chicago media company as well as famous movie locations around the city

FIYS 198 Chicago Trials: Criminal Division  

Stephanie Caparelli

This course will examine criminal justice in Chicago from a social and historical perspective by dissecting high profile trials of jazz age murderers, a floppy-haired governor, disgraced members of the judiciary, bar, and police force, and a Grammy Award winning hip-hop artist. Students will study the unique political and judicial history of the city at the time of each case by exploring historical nonfiction, newspaper articles, court documents and transcripts, and by touring historical and contemporary Chicago sites relevant to each case. Using the context of these cases, students will gain an understanding of the judicial process as it functions in state and federal court and an ability to distinguish between the reality of justice in a court of law and the often times fictionalized perception of such reality. This course will include campus visits from judges, attorneys, and other members of the Chicago legal community with personal and specialized knowledge of the particular trials covered.

FIYS 182 Civilization and Barbarism

Rui Zhu

This course examines the issue of violence and its relation to cultural rules and principles. We look at violence from two angles: its destructive and generating power and the rich cultural meanings it reveals. We look at civilization as a system of rules that govern human conduct united under a highly selective set of guiding principles. The central theme of this course is to study how the pressure of violence will give rise to different rules of human conduct subsumed under a few major principles. We will study those rules and principles through the actions in order to gain a basic understanding of the fundamental ways culture and civilization shape human behavior.

FIYS 116 - Dinosaurs, Meteors and Scientific Argument

Amy Abe

What caused the extinction of dinosaurs 66 million years ago? What theories have been derived from what evidence about this extinction? This course will examine how scientists argue by focusing on this problem. It took more than one scientific discipline to develop the theory that the impact of a meteor in Mexico set in motion the events that resulted in the extinction of the species. We will explore the evidence provided and consider just how scientists frame such an investigation and what questions about the physical world they ask. It was only in the 1990’s that the scientific community came to the consensus that a meteor impact in Mexico was the trigger. But what caused the meteor to strike? In this seminar we will explore how the data and speculation around this intersection of paleontology, geology and astronomy became accepted science, and consider how scientists use evidence and make arguments.

FIYS 142 Dostoevsky: Murder, Mystery and the Russian Novel

Carla Arnell

Is a student who murders a wealthy old pawnbroker justified in that murder, if he uses her money for the common good? When a father everyone loves to hate gets murdered, “who dunnit?”  What moral problems does his murder bring to light? If the Devil visited one’s bedroom, what would he look like and what conversation might he make about good and evil? These are just a few of the mysterious questions of plot, metaphysics, and morality prompted by Fyodor Dostoevsky’s novels. This course will explore such questions particularly in relation to Dostoevsky’s last novel of ideas, The Brothers Karamazov. Reading that fascinating novel closely throughout the semester, we will consider Dostoevsky’s literary and intellectual work within its dramatic biographical and historical context.  And we will use his fiction as a foundation for lively philosophical, theological, political, and aesthetic debates—debates as relevant today as they were in Dostoevsky’s day.

FIYS 190 Exploring Adolescence: The Role of Chicago School Experiences, Then and Now
Rachel Ragland

Adolescence is a time of transitions shaped by the experience of specific contexts.  This course will examine how adolescents develop, by focusing on the American high school experience. The specific context that will be explored is the impact of the Chicago public school experience on adolescent development as it existed both at the turn of the last century and as it exists today. To explore the contemporary situation, students traveling as a group will visit and conduct a series of observations at a Chicago high school. The class will develop a relevant research question; this will be investigated and the data collected will be analyzed to form a case study. Students will work collaboratively in research teams to explore these questions. They will use background knowledge and critical thinking skills to discuss the conclusions and implications of their research question and its comparison to historical data.

FIYS 147 - Government and Markets

Kent Grote

Why is the government involved in some aspects of our lives more than others? This question can be answered in many different ways, depending on one’s theoretical background. Different economists would provide different analyses of the government’s role, especially as it relates to business and markets. They would also base their arguments on fundamental economic theories. The primary goal of this course is to develop an understanding of economic markets and issues where governments have become important participants. Both in the United States and abroad, governments take an active role in the economics of education, the environment, health care, big business, poverty, and unemployment, among other issues. Although the course will be approached from an economic perspective, the topics relate to other fields of study as well, and particularly to the fields of politics and sociology.

FIYS 106 Medical Mysteries of the Mind  

Shubhik DebBurman

This course is for beginning students interested in exploring the human brain in a rigorous interdisciplinary way.  If you are intensely interested in how your brain helps you think, feel, sense, read, write, eat, sleep, dream, learn and move, this course is for you.  You will learn how brain dysfunction causes complex medical illnesses, like Alzheimer’s, Autism, and Schizophrenia.  You will meet Chicago’s world-class neuroscientists through guest seminars and class-trips to famous laboratories.  You will debate ethical dilemmas that face society and dissect human brains.  Lastly, you will organize a Brain Awareness Week on campus and do outreach at elementary schools to teach what you learn to young children.  While the course is intended for any serious student interested in mind mysteries, it will be of particular value for those planning natural science majors, biomedical/health professions, or a combination of biology and psychology.  One year each of high school biology and chemistry is required.

FIYS 197 Modern German Film

Richard Fisher

Film provides a lens for studying culture. In this course we will focus on German Film and Culture. Examining masterpieces of German cinema from its inception to the opening of the 21st century, the course will approach the filmmaker’s art from the perspectives of political and cultural history as well as cinematic aesthetics: the “language of film.” The course views films (subtitled in English) by such noted filmmakers as Lang, Fassbinder, Herzog, and Wenders. Along the way we will debate the powers and perils of popular culture, and trace patterns of interaction between history, works of art, and entertainment. Readings and discussions are in English, and the course encourages comparisons with films from other cultures, including popular Hollywood cinema. 

FIYS 180 - Philosophy of Humans and Animals   

Janet McCracken

Western philosophers since Aristotle—at least—have claimed that human beings, as a species and alone among species, are capable of complex reasoning. The seventeenth-century French philosopher Descartes, famously, denied that non-human animals have minds or could think, claiming that they are essentially robots. From these kinds of premises, philosophers have inferred a wide range of ethical and religious claims, e.g., it is ethically permissible to eat non-human animals. Alternative claims, however, have just as long a history. In this course, we will read and discuss an array of philosophical opinions on the similarities and differences between humans and other animals, and the practices of industrial farming, training animals to work or entertain, building and patronizing zoos, animal experimentation, and other controversial topics

FIYS 120 - Religious Violence and Coexistence

Anna Trumbore Jones

How do people of different religious faiths interact?  How do they create professional and personal relationships—and what limits are placed on those relationships, either by law or by the individuals themselves?  Conversely, what causes hostility and violence between faiths?  This course investigates these eternal questions through an in-depth study of relations between Christianity, Judaism, and Islam in medieval Europe.  We will begin with the earliest interactions between these religious traditions: as Christianity and Judaism diverged from common roots into separate faiths in the first two centuries CE, and as Islam emerged in the seventh century.  Our second unit will cover medieval Spain, where Christians, Jews, and Muslims coexisted relatively peacefully for centuries.  Finally, we will turn to the reasons for escalating religious violence in the later Middle Ages, focusing on the First Crusade (1095-1099) and the end of religious toleration.

FIYS 128 - Robots & Brains: Fantasies & Facts

Matthew Kelley

Will computers ever become conscious? Will robots ever have the degree of sentience described in science fiction or shown in films? How does the human mind emerge from the workings of the human brain? How is our brain different from, and simultaneously similar to, the brains of other animals? How are the “wet brains” of animals different from, and similar to, the “dry brains” of computers? Readings will include introductory materials on the brain, on mind and consciousness, on science fiction stories about robots, on scholarly and popular articles from current work in neuroscience and artificial intelligence. The course will include films, computer simulations, guest lectures, and field trips, all related to brain, mind, robots, and artificial intelligence.

FIYS 109 - The Future

Don Meyer

According to the 1989 film Back to the Future Part II, Americans living in 2017 would be traveling in hovercars, wearing self-lacing sneakers, and scooting around on hoverboards. Predicting the future is clearly difficult. So-called experts in various fields have routinely failed to accurately predict events such as the housing bubble of 2007, weather catastrophes, the outcome of political races, whether bridges can withstand stress loads, pandemics, and so on. Yet, to be human is to make predictions. In this course, we will explore the ways people have tried to see into the future, both on a mundane and a profound level. Examining fields across the liberal arts curriculum, we will assess these predictions and ultimately make predictions of our own, to be placed in a time capsule for our future amusement.

FIYS 133 The Great War            

Jim Marquardt

World War I (1914-1918) is a historical milestone.  It marked the end of the “old world order” and unleashed complex forces of political, economic and social change, the effects of which are still being felt today.  What caused World War I? How did political, diplomatic and military issues affect the conduct of the war in Europe?  What is the legacy of the “Great War”? The course examines the complex forces and events that compelled the European powers to take up arms against one another. It also explores opposition to the war among pacifists, conscientious objectors, suffragettes and socialists.

FIYS 154 - The Irish in Chicago

Anne Barry

This course will place Irish history in context and examine the large-scale emigration from Ireland to the United States in the mid-19th century. It will trace the destinations of the Irish as they settled in America and focus primarily on those who came to Chicago. It will research where and how the Irish community lived in the city and surrounding areas. It will examine how the Irish immigrants contended with the darker side of this new life through impoverished times and the rise of mob activity, and yet, how the cultural aspects of Irish life (among them sports, music, dance, art, crafts, literature, and theater) not only survived the transatlantic crossing, but thrived in their new home, and continue to be part of life for the Irish community in 21st century Chicago.

FIYS 130 The Science of Cooking  

Elizabeth Fischer

Since 1992, the term molecular gastronomy has become part of understanding the world’s cuisine. This course will examine the chemistry and physics of cooking, and the physiology of taste and flavor.  We will explore such questions as what is the science behind making a foam or gel; how do you prevent food bacteria from forming; and what does it mean to temper chocolate?  The science of cooking includes the important works of Hervé This, Heston Blumenthal, Ferran Adria, José Andrés, and Grant Achatz, among others.  We will read their work and not only become familiar with the latest materials and methods of the world’s most innovative cuisine, but also learn how these methods may be part of the solution to ending world hunger.  We will work with a chef to perform experiments to elucidate the theory we will be studying. 

FIYS 158 - Women in Theater

Chloe Johnston

“One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.”—Simone deBeauvoir 
DeBeauvoir’s famous quote tells us that gender is learned—a collection of behaviors that we all learn to replicate through a kind of performance that happens on and offstage. In this course, we will think about how this understanding of gender plays out in the theatre—the place where performance is studied. We’ll also take a broad look at the contributions made to theatrical history by women across the globe, considering how women have expressed themselves through theatre and performance—and how their voices have, at times, been excluded. We’ll also continually return to one question: Why do we need to teach/take a class called “Women in Theatre”?