First-Year Studies

Course Descriptions

FIYS 105 Music in Chicago
Nicholas Wallin 

Chicago offers its residents a musical soundscape as rich and as varied as any city in America. The city has a long history of classical music performances through organizations such as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Lyric Opera of Chicago, and the Ravinia Festival. Jazz and the Blues evolved in Chicago and can be heard in clubs across the city. Chicago also offers a diverse collection of ethnic and world music festivals nearly every weekend of the year. In this course, we will explore Chicago’s unique soundscape through three main areas: classical music, jazz and the blues, and world music. Our investigation will involve frequent field trips, some as a class and some in smaller groups. We will study the history of music in the city and will also cultivate active listening skills. This course requires participation in some evening and/or weekend field trips or events, so consider your other commitments (such as off-campus employment or a fall/winter sports participation) as you identify courses of interest to you.  No prior musical skills are required.

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 109:  The Future   
Don Meyer

According to the 1989 film Back to the Future Part II, Americans living in 2015 would be traveling in hovercars, wearing self-lacing sneakers, scooting around on hoverboards, and—most improbably—celebrating the victory of the Chicago Cubs in the World Series. 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 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 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 132:  The Birth of Chicago’s Museums 1893-1933   
Lia Alexopoulos

The World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 brought tens of millions of visitors to Chicago, which only two decades earlier had been nearly obliterated by fire. With this exposition, Chicago claimed its place as a world-class city. In 1933, Chicago hosted its second - and final - world’s fair, A Century of Progress, which drew nearly twice as many visitors as its predecessor. The intervening years saw the establishment and growth of many of Chicago’s most important museums, including the Museum of Science and Industry, the Adler Planetarium, the Field Museum of Natural History and the Art Institute of Chicago. This course will examine the circumstances that gave rise to Chicago’s museum-building boom, and study the histories and rich holdings of some of these institutions, as well as their contributions to the city. Field trips to Chicago will permit students to study and analyze museum collections and archives first-hand. This course requires participation in some evening and/or weekend field trips or events, so consider your other commitments (such as off-campus employment or a fall/winter sports participation) as you identify courses of interest to you.

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 138: Understanding Islam
Fatima Rahman

 The September 11 attacks brought Islam to the forefront of policy discussions, media, and popular culture. A religion that most Americans knew little about was now the focus of discussions across America, and Americans were raising important questions: What role did Islam play in motivating the attackers? Why do they hate us? What is jihad? Does Islam advocate violence? How are non-Muslims regarded in Islam? This course introduces students to the theological and political teachings of Islam and examines contemporary discourse about Islam. Beginning with the emergence of Islam, students will study its shared Abrahamic roots with Judaism and Christianity. The course will also examine the basic principles or pillars of Islam, focusing on the practices of Muslims across the world. After studying the historical theology, the course examines doctrinal ideas that have become politicized such as Shari’a law, the caliphate, and jihad.

FIYS 142 Dostoevsky on the Nature of Good and Evil   

Carla Arnell

Is a student who murders a wealthy old pawnbroker justified in his murder, if he uses her money for the common good? Can a novelist realistically represent a purely good person, or would readers regard such a person as nothing more than an “idiot”? If the Devil visited one’s bedroom, what would he look like and what conversation might he make? Fyodor Dostoevsky’s novels inspire fascinating questions about good and evil. This course will explore the evolution of Dostoevsky’s literary and intellectual work leading up to his final novel of ideas, The Brothers Karamazov. We will focus on the genesis and development of that novel through Dostoevsky’s contact with other novelists and explore the context of Dostoevsky’s dramatic biography and historical era. We will examine the provocative philosophical, theological, political and aesthetic debates his novel broaches—debates that are as relevant today as they were in Dostoevsky’s day.

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 149 Chicago Global-Local Microfinance  

Les Dlabay

This course considers the financial activities of the three billion “unbanked” people around the world, those who lack access to formal banking services. By providing loans as low as $35, entrepreneurs are able to improve the household income as well as give unbanked people opportunities for better schools, improved health care, and healthier diets. From a Chicago perspective, microloans for local entrepreneurs result in business start-ups, expanded employment, and improved community development.  Microfinance means more than loans; it comprises a portfolio of financial services that includes savings, insurance, transfers of funds, micro-franchising, and training for business operations and financial literacy. Through field visits, interviews, speakers, and videos, students will research ethnic areas of Chicago to propose creative financing for practical solutions to social problems. The course will prepare students for a changing business environment through cross-cultural and interdisciplinary assignments, team projects, and student-created video presentations.

FIYS 152: Chicago 1968
Randy Iden

The Democratic National Convention held in Chicago in 1968 was the climax of a social upheaval that had been building since the end of World War II. The chaotic scene, both inside the Chicago Amphitheater and in the streets and parks of the city, reflected the deep divisions in the US during this very tumultuous period in American history: the war in Vietnam was escalating, and Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy had both been assassinated that spring. In addition, Chicago was a point of intersection for social protest, politics, and the media that gave rise to a new age of message and image creation. The protesters chanted, “The whole world is watching,” but what exactly was the world watching? In this course, we will develop a context in which to consider the Convention, the protests and the subsequent high-profile trial of the alleged instigators, the Chicago Seven.

FIYS 168 Global Cultures: Chicago and Beyond  

Cynthia Hahn

Is the world getting smaller? Will increased cultural mixing and homogenization eventually make cultural differences a thing of the past? Or will resistance to cultural change provoke greater conflict and stronger cultural identification?  In this course we will examine the accelerating trend of cultural globalization through the lens of cultural encounters and their impact on changing perceptions of identity, particularly in Chicago. Other global cities, such as New York, Shanghai, Beirut, and Paris, will provide further examples of shifting cultural associations and new ways of constructing social identity. Excursions to Chicago will enhance our discussions of the critical essays, literature and films we’ll study, all pertaining to Chicago’s historical and current cultural influences of various Latino, African American, Chinese and French-speaking groups. Guest speakers with different perspectives on globalization will help us to construct a wider vision of this trend and envision potential future scenarios such as increased cultural hegemony, balkanization, hybridity, integration, and assimilation.

FIYS 169 Recreational Mathematics    

Enrique Trevino

Puzzles, paradoxes, and brain teasers have inspired many young people to pursue careers in science, and more than one achievement in mathematics has emerged from the desire to solve difficult puzzles.  In this course we will examine many famous (and not-so-famous) puzzles, and explore famous games such as Sudoku, tic-tac-toe, and Monopoly, to gain insight into all manner of phenomena.  To guide us in our mathematical diversions, we will read essays by Martin Gardner, Ian Stewart, Peter Winkler, Terence Tao, and other popular mathematics writers.  In addition, we will view documentaries and conduct group discussions to explore multiple aspects of mathematics. 

FIYS 176: Rhetoric and Citizenship  
Linda Horwitz

What does it mean to be a citizen? Since the time of the Greeks the study of rhetoric has focused on the concept of citizenship, while western education’s explicit purpose has traditionally been to create educated, engaged, and eloquent citizens. Contemporary scholars examine scholarly and rhetorical texts to analyze and critique how ideas of citizenship and national identity have been formed and expressed. Starting from Greek and Roman notions of citizenship, this course will examine texts that construct and critique citizenship in the United States. In particular we will look at the role voting, participation, and patriotism play in understanding citizenship.

FIYS 178 Saints and Sinners: Chicago    

Catherine Benton

Using film, literature, and field research at religious sites, this course unpacks the components of religious life in twenty-first century America.  Students explore the contemporary practice of religion, from prayer and traditional rituals to yoga and meditation, while studying three religious traditions with established communities in the Chicago area.  In addition to field trips, participants view award-winning popular films that address questions of religious identity, bigotry, and conflicting interpretations of spirituality.  To gain a fuller appreciation of contemporary practice, the course includes visits to a mosque, a Christian megachurch, and a Hindu temple.   

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. This course requires participation in some evening and/or weekend field trips or events, so consider your other commitments (such as off-campus employment or a fall/winter sports participation) as you identify courses of interest to you.

FIYS 187:  Religion in Gilded Age Chicago  
Ben Zeller

Students in this course will study the history and context of religion in Chicago at the turn of the century, roughly 1870- 1930. We will examine pivotal events in the shaping of Chicago’s religious communities, including religious immigration and the building of the city’s major churches and synagogues, the World’s Parliament of Religions in 1894, the rise of faith healer and self proclaimed prophet John Dowie, the arrival of the Baha’i movement, and new occult and metaphysical movements. In addition to written histories, this course makes use of field trips and historical archival material. This course requires participation in some evening and/or weekend field trips or events, so consider your other commitments (such as off-campus employment or a fall/winter sports participation) as you identify courses of interest to you.

FIYS 189 Public Sculpture in Chicago   

Miguel deBaca

This course is devoted to a first-hand examination of public sculpture in Chicago and its suburbs. Using intensive field study with photographic documentation, background readings and research, group discussions, individual research-based and analytical writings, and the development of an original public sculpture proposal, students will gain insight into the factors involved in the ideation, planning, funding and execution of public sculpture in urban and suburban venues. The class will tackle problems of community interest, artistic invention and intervention, accessibility, patronage, “name-branding,” and symbolism in an effort to gain practical academic skills while learning about an important facet of the rich cultural experience that Chicago holds for residents, commuters and tourists. This course requires participation in some evening and/or weekend field trips or events, so consider your other commitments (such as off-campus employment or a fall/winter sports participation) as you identify courses of interest to you. 

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 192  Stars: Black Holes, Dark Cosmos   

Amy Abe 

Are you curious about what is known and what is yet undefined in the realm of black holes, dark matter, dark energy, and other stuff of the Universe? What leads to the patterns of stars in the sky?  What about the scientific evidence drives SETI astronomers and the NASA teams for Kepler space telescope exoplanet search and the Mars Curiosity rover mission to seek evidence of extraterrestrial life?  Why are today’s scientists more excited about how fast the universe expands than they are about the 1920’s revelation that the universe is expanding?  Gain insights into these and other current questions about astronomy and cosmology as we address topics from a perspective that you, scientist or scientifically curious, will find enriching and enlightening. This course requires participation in evening and/or weekend field trips or events, so consider your other commitments (such as off-campus employment or a fall/winter sports participation) as you identify courses of interest to you.

FIYS 193: Writing Chicago
Josh Corey

Students in this course will explore how poets, writers, and other artists have described, imagined, and reimagined the city of Chicago as, alternately, “nature’s metropolis,” the economic dynamo of the American dream, and as a nightmarish dystopia of corruption, pollution, violence, and injustice. Starting with the Burnham Plan, students will pair the investigation of particular sites and neighborhoods with the study of literary texts and cultural histories, as well as artworks and architecture. Urban spaces as envisioned by women, immigrants, African Americans, and the LGBT community will be a particular focus of the course, and students will produce their own creative and critical writings about the city.

FIYS 195: College Sport in Chicago: Then and Now        
Chad McCracken

College football is currently in crisis, due largely to public anxieties about health risks and potentially exploitative amateurism. Such anxieties are hardly new: the NCAA was founded in 1906 as a private alternative to the public regulation then being applied in industries such as meat-packing. From the founding of the Western Conference (precursor of the Big Ten) in Chicago in 1896 to current attempts by Northwestern University football players to unionize, institutions in and around this city have played a crucial role in the thorny debates about how best to regulate college football. Using the history of college football in Chicago as point of entry into these debates, this course asks questions about the value of college football, about the rationality of voluntary risk taking, about economic exploitation, and about general fairness (including, e.g., Title IX questions, since college football is played exclusively by men). This course requires participation in some evening and/or weekend field trips or events, so consider your other commitments (such as off-campus employment or a fall/winter sports participation) as you identify courses of interest to you.

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. This course requires participation in some evening and/or weekend field trips or events, so consider your other commitments (such as off-campus employment or a fall/winter sports participation) as you identify courses of interest to you.