Skip to main content

2021-2022 Course Descriptions

HUM 205-0-20

The World of Homer

FALL 2021 - Co-listed with CLASSICS 210

What do we know of the world inhabited by the heroes of Homer’s epic poems, the Iliad and the Odyssey? Do the poems describe a largely imaginary realm, or do they reflect a particular period of ancient Greek history—and if so, which one? How did the circulation of the poems help contribute to a collective sense of Greek identity over a wide area of the eastern Mediterranean? This course explores the society, economy, and culture of Iron Age Greece with special attention to the Geometric and early Archaic periods, emphasizing what scholars have learned through archaeological discoveries along with study of the poems themselves. Topics include the excavations at Troy and other sites; contacts with Egypt and the Near East and colonization in the Mediterranean world; trade, exchange, and the technology of travel; literacy and oral tradition; political communities and warfare; gender and family relationships; religion, burial practices, and the art of ritual and commemoration. We will also examine some of the ways scholars and artists today are re-exploring  the poems and their enduring themes.

HUM 220-0-20

Health, Biomedicine, Culture, and Society

SPRING 2022 - Co-listed with SOCIOLOGY 220

Present-day medicine and health care are flashpoints for a bewildering array of controversies--about whose interests the health care system should serve and how it should be organized; about the trustworthiness of the medical knowledge we rely on when we are confronted with the threat of illness; about the politics and ethics of biomedical research; about whether health care can be made affordable; about how the benefits of good health can be shared equitably across lines of social class, race, and gender; and about the proper roles of health professionals, scientists, patients, activists, and the state in establishing medical, political, and ethical priorities. By providing a broad introduction to the domain of health and biomedicine, this course will take up such controversies as matters of concern to all. We will analyze the cultural meanings associated with health and illness; the political controversies surrounding health care, medical knowledge production, and medical decision-making; and the structure of the social institutions that comprise the health care industry. We will examine many problems with the current state of health and health care in the United States, and we will also consider potential solutions.

HUM 225-0-20

Media Theory: An Introduction

FALL 2021 - Co-listed with ART HISTORY 375

How do media impact our sense of such fundamental concepts as personhood, social life, and time and space? How do new technologies transform sensory experience at different moments in history? This course provides an introduction to the field of theoretical writings within the humanities addressing the nature of media and the role of technology in 20th- and 21st century culture. We will pay close attention to the work of key media theorists, including (but not limited to) Walter Benjamin, Marshall McLuhan, and Donna Haraway. We will also analyze works of art, sound, film, and literature in order to catalyze, test, and expand our sense of how media matter.

HUM 260-0-20

Economics and the Humanities: Understanding Choice in the Past, Present, and Future


This course offers a cross-disciplinary approach to the concept of alternatives and choices. At any given moment, how many alternatives are possible? Is there really such a thing as chance or choice? On what basis do we choose? How does our understanding of the past affect the future? Can we predict the future? With Professor Schapiro, President of Northwestern and a labor economist, and Professor Morson, a specialist in literature, you will examine approaches to these questions and learn how to evaluate assumptions, evidence, moral questions, and possibilities across disciplines.

HUM 325-4

Parks and Pipeline: Indigenous Environmental Justice


This seminar explores how the relationship between the United States and Indigenous people has shaped the environments, ecosystems, and physical landscapes we live in today. We will learn how the environment of what is now the United States was managed by Indigenous people before and throughout colonization, how Indigenous people have been impacted by the environmental policies of the United States, and how Indigenous resistance and activism have shaped both the environmental movement in the U.S. as well as contemporary Indigenous political thought. In discussion, we will break down the politics, economics, and ethics of this history, challenging ourselves to think critically about the land we live on and its future.

HUM 325-6

Ancient Rome in Chicago

SPRING 2022 - Co-listed with CLASSICS 390

Ancient Rome is visible in Chicago—walk the city and learn to “read” the streets, buildings, and monuments that showcase Chicago’s engagement with the classical past! You’ll gain digital mapping and video editing skills as you collaborate on a virtual walking tour mapping Chicago’s ongoing dialogue with antiquity. With a combination of experiential learning and rigorous research methodologies, you’ll explore architecture, history, visual arts, and urban topography in this quintessential modern American city.

HUM 370-3

Medical Heroes and Villains

FALL 2021 - Co-listed with GLOBAL HEALTH STUDIES 390

House. Grey’s Anatomy. The Constant Gardener. Frankenstein’s Monster. Paul Farmer. Josef Mengele. The Tuskeegee Trials. Healthcare workers, and physicians and nurses in particular, have long held sway in the popular imagination as both hero and villain. From biographies of real-life medical heroes and villains to fictional accounts in movies, novels, TV series, podcasts, and other media, medicine has long held sway in our popular imagination. What can we learn about the societal values we place on medicine (and medical personnel) by exploring the ways that medical heroes and villains are depicted to wide public audiences? What do these fictional and non-fictional accounts have to tell us about societal anxieties and ambiguities relating to medicine? How might we contemplate the ways societal norms relating to race, gender, place of origin, ability, and other identifiers become mapped onto the stories the public consumes relating to medicine? What can these stories tell us about anxieties regarding life and death, technology, science, and culture? Who is portrayed as hero, who as villain, who as victim and who as backdrop to the narrative? In this course, we will consume a wide array of popular media about medical heroes and villains, both fictional and non-fictional, in order to interrogate how medicine as a lens tells us about a wide array of societal ambiguities, potentialities, inequalities and silences. 

Archiving the Barrio: Memory, Place, and Resistance


Confronted with gentrification and displacement, urban communities of color in the U.S. have struggled not only to ensure their futures but also to preserve their pasts. This course explores the contemporary formation of grassroots and community-based archival projects. Drawing on scholarly and popular writings, students will discuss the practical, ethical, and organizational dimensions and challenges of community archiving. Throughout the course, students will also engage directly with community leaders and archivists from several U.S. based community-based archives. In addition, the course is designed to provide students with hands-on archival experience. To this end, the centerpiece of the course will be work with the Puerto Rican Chicago Archive project in the city’s Humboldt Park area, the rapidly gentrifying center of the city’s Puerto Rican community. With the project, students will help conduct oral history interviews, process and digitize documents, and support archive-building, generally.

HUM 370-4

Red Power: Indigenous Resistance in the U.S. and Canada, 1887-Present


In 2016, thousands of Indigenous water protectors and their non-Native allies camped at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in an effort to block the construction of the DakotaAccess Pipeline. That movement is part of a long history of Native activism. In this course, we will examine the individual and collective ways in which Indigenous people have resisted colonial domination in the U.S. and Canada since 1887. In addition to focusing on North America, we will also turn our attention to Hawai‘i and the U.S. territories. This course will emphasize environmental justice, and will highlight religious movements, inter-tribal organizations, key intellectual figures, student movements, armed standoffs, non-violent protest, and a variety of visions for Indigenous community self-determination.

Comparative Approaches to Ancient Empires

WINTER 2022 - Co-listed with ANTHROPOLOGY 390 and MENA 390

Description to come!

Race and the American Midwest

WINTER 2022 - Co-listed with HISTORY 393

This seminar explores the role of race and Indigeneity in histories of the American Midwest. Despite popular narratives of the Midwest as purely a heartland of white homogeneity and normativity, racialized communities of color have long shaped politics, culture, and society in the region. This course emphasizes the fluid nature of ideas about race, and their interplay with the construction of place in a settler colonial society. The course materials cover a wide range of topics that are crucial for understanding both Midwestern and U.S. history writ large. From the multi-ethnic world of the fur trade, to contemporary housing inequalities, this course highlights the making of a U.S. region, and confronts mythologies of the Midwest in the American imagination.

HUM 370-5

Performance Activism

WINTER 2022 - Co-listed with THEATRE

Activism is accomplished through a set of repertoires such as gathering, singing, and marching that aim to dismantle privilege. This course examines both the history through which the repertoires emerged and consolidated (movements such as abolition, suffrage, pro-independence, and anti-war) and how they are manifest recombinatively in contemporary concerns (for example, the aftermath of school shootings in the US, the Arab Spring, globalized Black Lives Matter protests, and the Anti-Extradition Law Amendment Bill Movement in Hong Kong). While progressive and liberatory politics are consistently promoted, performance is the means by which causes are individualized as well as internationalized in a recognizable lexicon of performance and mediatization. Students will have the opportunity to study different movements, observe and/or participate in events (live or mediated), and enhance the entire class's understanding and aptitude through diverse means.

Race, Gender, Sex & Science: Making Identities and Differences


How do scientific claims and technological developments help transform cultural understandings of race, gender, and sexuality? Conversely, how do cultural beliefs about race, gender, and sexuality influence scientific knowledge and medical practice? This class will take up a series of controversies from the recent past and present to explore the dynamic interplay between expert findings, social identities, and political arguments. NOTE: This course was previously offered as HUM 395.

HUM 370-6

Under Representation: Is There a Mirror for Me?

FALL 2021 - Co-listed with SPANISH 397

This course proposes to explore both the philosophical idea of representation in modern Aesthetics as well as the visual culture practices that have contested its racial and gendered regime—resisting being reabsorbed on the condition that difference be reduced to minor inflections of equivalence. If Aesthetics has historically been the realm of thought where universalizing claims of political and self-determining subjecthood demarcated the threshold of the human subject in and of their representation: how have unfreedom, subjection, and social injustice been defined in relation to representation? Taking the Block Museum exhibition Who Says, Who Shows, What Counts: Thinking About History with The Block’s Collection as a survey of the compelling stories that can be told through works of art, we examine not only who and what gets represented and/or erased but also what constitutes visibility in visual culture, historically and down to the present. We interrogate the racial and gender power dynamics that have regulated access to recognition by fundamentally de-naturalizing the ways in which these regimes have taught us to see. Closely exploring particular works of art and literature, we ask what the experience of seeing yourself “represented” in or by art involves and means, how it dramatizes the lived experience of being included or barred from social recognition, institutional legitimacy, political agency.

National Cinema/World Cinema

FALL 2021 - Co-listed with FRENCH 379

What makes a film “French” or “Korean” or “Mexican”? Is it where the film is made or where it takes place? The languages spoken or the actors who play the roles? Do national cinemas have distinct visual styles—and if so, how does that sit with the idea that cinema is somehow a “universal” language? We will explore debates about the national and/or global dimensions of cinema, from some of the classic texts of early film theory to such recent films as Parasite. Following readings on the concepts of cinema and the nation, we will study the global circulation of ideas about the films of the great director Yasujiro Ozu, routinely said to be the “most Japanese” of all filmmakers, but also an influence on directors throughout the world. We will also explore the idea of “new wave” cinemas: Originally used to describe innovative French films of the late 50s and 60s, “new wave” became both a critical and a marketing concept to group films from Japan, Poland, Iran, and many other countries around the world, to the present day. We will watch, read about, and discuss a wide range of films from around the world, with an emphasis on Western Europe and East Asia. Beyond Ozu, directors may include Sergei Eisenstein, Claire Denis, Wim Wenders, Edward Yang, Abbas Kiraostami, Abderrahmane Sissako, Bong Joon-ho, and Lee Isaac Chung.

Voice vs. Narrative – Contemporary Opera

FALL 2021 - Co-listed with MUSIC STUDIES 337/437

The class will undertake a survey of 20th and 21st century operas with a special focus on works with innovative positions towards the relation of music (voice) and narrative. After a brief analysis of the point of departure (Wagner’s “Tristan,” Berg’s “Wozzeck”) we will discuss works that have radically challenged the traditional understanding of opera: Phillip Glass' "Einstein On the Beach", Morton Feldman’s
 "Neither", Chaya Czernowin’s “Pnima”, Helmut Lachenmann's "Mädchen mit den Schwefelhölzern" as well as works by Salvatore
 Sciarrino, Liza Lim, and David T. Little. Furthermore, we will look at tendencies in contemporary theater and dance, (Wilson, Wooster Group, Forsythe, Bausch) and discuss aesthetic concepts that influence contemporary opera composition. An important part of the class will be a creative workshop: the students will work on drafting an opera project.

The Great Divide: The Partition of India and Pakistan in Literature, Film, and Popular Culture


In August 1947, as the sun set on Britain’s Indian empire, the subcontinent was partitioned into two newly-created, independent nations: India and Pakistan. The division into two territories –one Hindu-majority, the other Muslim-majority – was accompanied by perhaps the largest migration in human history. Millions moved from one territory to the other, often against their will, as hundreds of thousands were killed in the ensuing chaos. The unprecedented violence of Partition - physical, emotional, social – profoundly shaped the national identities of India and Pakistan, permanently restructured the texture of everyday life and altered the global political order. From the subsequent partitioning of Pakistan and Bangladesh in 1971, to enduring border disputes in Kashmir, from ongoing cross-border migration to unresolved conflicts over identity and belonging, Partition continue to shape the region today.

Partition’s legacy today extends far beyond the heavily-fortified frontier and into the art, literature and popular culture of the three countries that emerged from it. Even as the post-colonial states treated Partition as an aberration best forgotten - a footnote of a midnight tryst with destiny – the arts emerged as the primary space in which the meaning of Partition was negotiated and mediated. What could not easily be engaged directly found its expression, often allegorically, on the silver screen or the off-white pages of literary magazines.

This class will examine how Partition has been engaged in literature and popular culture, moving from contemporary depictions from the 1940s to its continued invocation in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh today. We will read/watch these texts alongside the extensive body of scholarship on Partition from History, Anthropology and Gender Studies with particular attention to the historiography of Partition and South Asian nationalisms. Throughout, we will engage with the idea of Partition as an “event” and ask how Partition continues to inflect life in South Asia and beyond today.  

Science and Representation

WINTER 2022 - Co-listed with ENGLISH

Description to come!

The Crime Centered Documentary

WINTER 2022 - Co-listed with LEGAL STUDIES 376 and RADIO/TELEVISION/FILM 377

In this course, we will view non-fiction and hybrid films that revolve around crime, criminal justice, and criminal court cases. Our emphasis will be on cases that are either mired in controversy and/or emblematic of wider social concerns. Readings will accompany viewings and experts will weigh in with legal, philosophical, or scientific perspectives: What is accurately depicted? What is omitted? What is misrepresented? Concurrently, we will investigate the films aesthetically: How is the film structured and why? What choices are being made by the filmmaker in terms of camera, sound, and editing and how do these choices affect viewers? Throughout the course, we will consider the ethics of depicting real people and traumatic events. We will also look at specific films in regard to their legal or societal impact. Assignments will include a series of short response papers and a substantial final project, which can take the form of either (up to the student) a final 12-15 page paper or an 8-12 minute film or podcast. The final should center upon a legal topic. Ideas include, but are not limited to: A comparison of two films depicting the same criminal case, a polished/edited interview with a person somehow connected to a crime, an investigation of a local court or legal advocacy center. Registration Requirement: For RTVF students, RTVF 190. Please note: Students may use their cell phones and their computers for final media projects. However, technical skills such as lighting, camera, sound, and editing will not be taught in this class. Group projects (two people max) will be allowed. Students creating media projects must strictly adhere to RTVF COVID safety guidelines. 

Back to top