First-Year Studies

Course Descriptions


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 110 Country Music: History, Style, Culture
Nicholas Wallin 

In this course, students will investigate the history and styles of Country music, and how Country music has impacted American culture. This investigation will include the question of authenticity, the influence of the commercial market, and issues of race and gender. Students will engage in active listening, and will have the opportunity to attend musical performances.

FIYS 114 Nobel Humanity
Dustin Mengelkoch

What do the books Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster (1997); Thinking, Fast and Slow (2011); Strength to Love (1963); and Chance and Necessity (1994) all have in common? First, they’re all written by Nobel Prize winners; second, they all tell different parts of the wide-sweeping story of the human desire for political, intellectual, scientific, and social freedom during the twentieth century up to today. In this course we will trace how freedom and humanity have been changed, challenged, and charged by Nobel Prize winners in literature, economics and social science, physiology (medicine), and physics. Our laureates will reveal to us how genetic structures, economic and political oppression, tragedy, and the pursuit of freedom reveal some of the most important, current views on our common humanity.

FIYS 115 Climate Change Across Disciplines
Todd Beer

This course will explore the most pressing issue of our time: climate change. We will examine the physical science of global warming, but more so we will focus on the social, political, ethical, psychological and artistic aspects of global warming. We will critically examine the predicted and current consequences of climate change and how it impacts groups of people differently. In addition, we will engage the following questions: What global and local political efforts have been made to address and deny the problem? What are the economic implications of climate change? What do ethics and the law say about global warming? How has modern literature and film imagined the future in a warming world? Is technology enough to get us out of this mess or will it require more systemic social change? As individuals and societies how do we cognitively perceive such a large problem?

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 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 134 Women in Medieval Christianity        

Anna Trumbore Jones

Christianity in medieval Europe (ca. 500-1500 CE) was characterized by an ambivalent attitude toward women. Eve was blamed for original sin, while the Virgin Mary was revered for her role in humanity’s salvation. This ambivalence in theology extended to other realms, including religion, politics, and medicine. This course will explore the lives of women in this period, with an emphasis on their participation in spiritual movements. We will meet women who were nuns, martyrs, queens, scholars, mystics, and soldiers - as well as more ordinary women. We will discuss the particular challenges posed by primary sources by or about women. We will also critically analyze some of the major themes in recent scholarship on gender history.

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 and the Russian Novel

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? These are just a few of the fascinating questions prompted by Fyodor Dostoevsky’s novels. 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, such as Turgenev and Dickens. We will explore the novel against Dostoevsky’s dramatic biographical and historical context. And 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 148 Fashion, Culture, and Communication
Rachel Whidden

Fashion is more than simply how we dress. Among other things, it is a means of personal expression, a reflection of an historical moment, and an international industry. In this course we will explore what fashion means at various points in history by considering how the political and social climate of the time period produces expectations for what should/should not be worn, by whom, and for what purpose. The course will therefore situate fashion in terms of both its production and consumption, exploring its role in relation to identity and body politics (race, gender, sexuality, class), art and status, nationhood and the global economy, and celebrity and popular culture.

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 159 Chicago Stage and Screen

Brian Healy

Not only is the Chicago theater scene internationally acknowledged to be the greatest in the U.S., but the City has a significant history as host to many iconic movie and television production teams as well. In this course, you will have the opportunity to examine its rich and storied history in practice. Students will watch, read, discuss, and write about many of the plays or productions that you will see performed. Visiting a variety of Chicago theaters and soundstages, you will not only see the shows, but you will also meet many of the artists involved in the productions to talk about their work. 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 174:  Chicago’s Museums  
Lia Alexopoulos

Chicago’s renowned museums and exhibition spaces make it a destination for culture lovers the world over. From the Field and DuSable Museums to Hull House and the Art Institute, Chicago is home to a vast array of cultural, historical, and scientific repositories whose holdings include some of the greatest artifacts of human endeavor, contributing immensely to the city’s identity. This course introduces students to some of these museums, with an emphasis on art institutions, while also examining their historic and current roles in the life of the city. Topics include the management, collections, curation, audience, programming, and architecture of these institutions. One museum will be selected for in-depth investigation. Working individually and in small groups, students will research its various functions and present their findings to the class. 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 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 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 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 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 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. 

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. 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 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.