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First-Year Studies

Course Descriptions


American Playwrights in Chicago   

Professor 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. 

Art in Chicago

Professor Lia Alexopoulos

 While Chicago’s extensive contributions to modern architecture are known throughout the world, it’s been a critical center of visual art in all media since its earliest years. This course will explore the rich and dynamic history of art-making in Chicago from before the Great Fire of 1871 to the present, as well as the city’s role as a center for experimentation and learning in the visual arts. Throughout its history, Chicago has been home to an art community that has always charted its own path, free from the constraints of more commercial centers like New York, and in so doing has had great impact on visual art and our broader visual culture. The city itself is a critical resource for this class, as course content — in the form of readings, discussion, and various activities — is augmented by visits to diverse art institutions and meetings with influential art-makers.

BFFs: “Besties” and Female Friendship  

Professor Catherine Reedy

“Besties” are found everywhere in contemporary fiction, television, and film. Usually placed behind romantic relationships, female friendship is now understood to be a powerful and even transformative dynamic, one that is central to female identity. Men and lovers take a back seat: A “Coldplay song plays in my heart” whenever Hannah Horvath sees her two closest friends in “Girls.” Are BFFs taking over the usual unions of romantic or erotic love? How much are girlfriends the focus of these stories? In this course, we examine these contemporary representations of female friendship, from television programs such as “Girls” to the erotic and dangerous “besties” of Emma Cline’s The Girls. Throughout, we discover the many sides of this complex, and contradictory, relationship. 

Civil Disobedience and Political Obligation

Professor Siobhan Moroney

This course asks some fundamental questions about the relationship between the individual and society. In particular, we will look at expectations and demands put upon individuals, and under what conditions people might reject those expectations and demands; that is, what makes them disobey? How do we balance allegiance to the rule of law with moral codes that might be in conflict with the law?  We will explore philosophical and theoretical texts but also look at some contemporary examples of civil disobedience.

Criminal Justice in Chicago

Professor Stephanie Caparelli

In Criminal Justice in Chicago, we will analyze historical and contemporary Chicago criminal cases to consider how criminal justice is doled out in the Second City. We will focus on the seemingly disparate cases of four Chicagoans: Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb, notorious jazz-age murderers, legendary R & B artist R Kelly, and Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke, convicted in the murder of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. Despite the differences in the defendants, nature of crimes, backgrounds, and outcomes of these cases, we will examine some of the common themes surrounding their cases to gain a better understanding of how high-profile criminal justice cases are handled in Chicago. We will also draw distinctions between such high-profile cases and more routine violent crime cases charged and tried in Chicago. This class will include classroom visits by professionals from a variety of fields (e.g., legal, media) with personal ties to the cases.

Entrepreneurship in Action

Professor John Pappas

 Entrepreneurship involves more than merely starting a new business that addresses a problem worth solving or innovating within an existing organization; it is a life skill that will contribute to success in any field.  This course will explore the history of entrepreneurship through case studies, articles, and other activities.  Students will investigate the evolution of entrepreneurial best practices and pitfalls throughout the years.  Recent successes and failures in the world of entrepreneurship will be dissected, and the role of technology in the future of the field will be examined.

From Now On: Media Art & Technology

Professor David Sanchez Burr

Digital media, technology and the arts have become potent forces creating changes in aesthetics, communication, social engagement, political movements, and economic conditions. From social media to Virtual Reality, the lines between reality and artifice blur.  As these forces combine, reconfigure and create innovations, how will these changes impact our everyday experience? What should we expect in the world of work? Mass access to design software allows everyone to be a maker capable of creating shifts in cultural and social trends. How can one thrive in a such a dynamic world? Artists have played an important role as a counterpoint to mass-media by creating work that articulates important questions and examines such changes. Through discussions, readings, exercises and projects the course examines the impact of new fields in art and technology. This course will help students to identify, learn about, and potentially create tools to navigate a technologically dense future. 

Gender and the Renaissance Image

Professor Ann Roberts

Despite contemporary fascination with Mary of Scots or Elizabeth I, most women in the Medieval and Renaissance periods were subordinate to men, through legal structures, convention and religious authority. These same structures also defined the proper roles and characteristics of men. This course will examine how representations of men and women in the Renaissance contributed to notions of masculinity and femininity, by exploring primary sources, contemporary texts, and modern representations of gender roles in the Renaissance. Topics include: how images contribute to the definition of gender roles; the manipulation of traditional images of power designed for men, but used by women rulers to support their claims; the role of dress in images to confirm and subvert gender expectations. We will also look at how modern works of art, literature and film portray Renaissance men and women and how such representations are informed by modern notions of gender.

Global Epidemics: From AIDS to Zika

Professor Karen Kirk

 What makes an emerging infectious disease become an epidemic, like the recent West-Africa Ebola outbreak? Why isn’t a vaccine widely available? We will explore the medical, biological, and molecular complexities of a variety of infectious diseases that plague the world, such as malaria, cholera, and Dengue fever. We will study the viruses and microbes that cause the diseases, how they are transmitted, and the chemical and biological challenges of making and distributing vaccines in less developed countries. Finally, we will examine the potential intentional outbreak of disease that may be used by bioterrorists. For instance, the smallpox disease essentially has been wiped off the earth, but stocks of it could one day be used, or even synthesized, as a biological weapon. In addition to class discussions and writing assignments, students will investigate microbial morphology through a high-powered laboratory microscope and even make bacterial art. 

The Great Migration in Chicago

Professor Brian McCammack

In the half-century following World War I, more than five million African Americans left the American South—usually for cities in the North and West—in the Great Migration. In that period, Chicago’s black population grew from just over 44,000 to more than 1.1 million, dramatically reshaping the face of the city. This course will explore the connections between that history and African American cultural production and experiences. We will close read and contextualize from a variety of disciplinary perspectives—including history, literary and film criticism, sociology, critical race studies, and cultural studies—to examine the historical significance of a variety of texts including novels, plays, photographs, maps, sociological surveys, oral histories, and correspondence.

History Reversed: You to the World

Professor Rudi Batzell 

Usually, history courses start deep in the past, and move towards the present. In this class, we flip the script, and start with you, right here, right now, at Lake Forest College. By tracing our individual ancestries, we will situate our local lives at the College and in the city of Chicago within a global historical context. Using large-scale datasets and wide-ranging historical sources, we will explore Chicago as a global city of immigrants and the Midwest as an ancient civilization of indigenous peoples. Rewinding from the present, the course will chart a global path back thousands of years to the origins of the human species in Africa. By investigating and debating how change happens over time, we will understand our own place in history.

Independent Media in Chicago

Professor David Park

This course will focus on the role played by independent media in the contemporary cultural landscape. Students will become familiar with the workings of different independent media, as represented by the workings of film-makers, music venues, newspapers, zines, comic books, video games, and record labels that survive without direct connections to the large corporations that dominate the mass mediated culture in the U.S. At all times, readings concerning the role of the media in society will contextualize the importance of the independent media. This class will feature several trips to the sites where these media outlets operate, with likely visits to: Quimby’s Queer Store, The Hideout, Kartemquin Films, and The Chicago Reader. Paper assignments find students applying these experiences to the broader meanings of independent media. Students will get a first-hand look at what the production of culture looks like in the context of independent media in Chicago.

Jane Addams, Chicago’s Pacifist

Professor James Marquardt

 This course studies the peace advocacy of Chicago’s Jane Addams in late 19th and early 20th century America.  Jane Addams’ opposition to World War I and the efforts she (and her collaborators) pursued to end it are the focus.  Addams worked tirelessly for peace, using her settlement work in Chicago as evidence that people from different nations and cultures can overcome barriers between them and work with one another to advance their shared interests.  Inspired by the writings of Leo Tolstoy and her father’s Quaker beliefs, her pacifism led her to oppose the Spanish-American war and the U.S. occupation of the Philippines.  Addams’ pacifism and settlement work, which underscores the importance of institutions in serving the needs of the poor, also informs her efforts after World War I to promote international institutions that would resolve disputes diplomatically and ensure lasting international peace, security, prosperity, and justice.

Law, Literature and Logic

Professor Chad McCracken

 A lawyer arguing a case tries to shape that case into a coherent, persuasive story: a dry recitation of facts and law is not enough. So law is a literary—a story-telling—enterprise. And a dramatic one: fiction writers and filmmakers use crimes, investigations, court proceedings, and punishments to generate interest in their works. And yet, we still tend to think of literary flourishes as deceptive—after all, one meaning of “to tell a story” is “to tell a lie.” Legal reasoning, moreover, often seems arcane or merely manipulative, aimed more at obscuring the truth than revealing it. In this course we will look into the complex and often bewildering interplay among law, literature, and logic, with the hope of illuminating all three—and with the hope of improving your writing skills, your reasoning skills, your rhetorical skills, and your argumentative skills

Medical Mysteries of the Mind  

Professor 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 present at the Brain Awareness Week on campus.  

Money and Happiness

Professor Stewart Foley

Can money buy happiness?  If you ask “would you rather be rich or happy?” the response may imply that the two are synonymous.  This course will examine the relationship between money and happiness and will give you tools to get what you want and want what you have in your search for a happy life.  You will learn negotiating skills along with influence and persuasion techniques, and explore the “happiness equation.”  Using documentaries, articles, texts and case studies as a basis for our discussions, we will explore these questions: What is a fulfilling life? Is happiness learned or genetic? What role is played by humor, friendship, achievement, spirituality and love?  In addition to writing about these topics, students will test these approaches and techniques during in-the-field experiments.  This course will make you think and challenge your assumptions as you prepare for what lies ahead in your college experience and well beyond.

Music and Math

Professor Nicholas Wallin

 In this course, students will investigate the connections between the fields of music and mathematics.  Commonalities to be explored will include the musical concepts of rhythm, meter, scales, tuning, and temperament, and the mathematical concepts of geometric series, rational and irrational numbers, modular arithmetic, and symmetries of the square. No previous knowledge of music theory is required, only a desire to use critical and analytical skills to understand and appreciate music.

Philosophy of Humans and Animals   

Professor 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

Religious Violence and Coexistence

Professor 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 the medieval Mediterranean world.  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.  In our second unit, we will study medieval Spain, where Christians, Jews, and Muslims coexisted relatively peacefully for centuries, but where that toleration crumbled in the later Middle Ages, culminating in the Spanish Inquisition.

The Science of Cooking  

Professor 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. 

Why College? A Chicago Story

Professor Cristina Groeger

Why go to college? Over time, students, families, teachers, employers, and politicians have answered this question in very different ways. In this course, we will explore the changing meaning and realities of college-going in Chicagoland from the 18th to the 21st centuries: from classical finishing school for white clergymen, to teacher-training for new cohorts of women and African Americans, to socialization into a radical youth culture, to “human capital” investment for a knowledge economy. We’ll use a range of historical and contemporary sources to answer the questions: Why go to college? Who gets to go to college? Why is college so expensive? Through discussions, debates, and written reflection, we will dig into the past struggles and policy decisions that shape what college means for you here at Lake Forest College today.

Women Onstage: From Antigone to Beyoncé 

Professor Chloe Johnston

“One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.”—Simone deBeauvoir   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 performance spaces. We’ll take a broad look at the ways women have been portrayed onstage in different kinds of theatrical performance, from plays to music. We’ll look at how women have expressed themselves and addressed political issues through theatre and performance—and how their voices have, at times, been excluded. We’ll look at the changing answers to the question—what is a woman?