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Course Descriptions

FIYS 112: Wild Chicago: Exploring the Urban Jungle

Professor Sean Menke

This course offers students a clear understanding of the wildlife around us and how humans interact with their environment. The goal for the class is to help students think and write clearly and critically, form educated opinions about a wide range of environmental issues in urban environments, and defend those opinions. Based on our own observations we also learn how to ask educated questions about the relationships between humans and the environment. By visiting with a carefully selected group of environmental professionals and regularly observing and recording information on the environment in which we live, we explore how wildlife interacts with humans on an everyday basis. 

FIYS 114: From Now On: Art, Society, and 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 we should 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 helps students to identify, learn about, and potentially create tools to navigate a technologically dense future. 

FIYS 117: Becoming Adult in Times of Change: Liminal States

Professor Holly Swyers  

You probably don’t have a word for it, but the world right now is in a liminal state. In anthropology, a liminal state is a time of being betwixt and between, when things are not the same as they were before, but they haven’t yet found a new normal. Starting college is also a liminal state, because you’re not really a high school student anymore but not quite a college student. This course focuses on figuring out your liminal state in three ways: 1) exploring the idea of liminality, including the idea that all of college is a liminal space before adulthood; 2) challenging you (literally) to try something new on a regular basis, while maintaining a “beginner’s mind”; and 3) exposing you to tools you will need in your college and adult life, ranging from negotiating politics at dinner parties to exploring career options. If you’ve read this far and didn’t get put off by the scary title or your assumptions about what this course would be, you have what it takes.

FIYS 120: From Community to Violence: Christianity, Islam, and Judaism in the Pre-Modern Mediterranean

Professor Anna 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 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 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.

Robots & Brains: Fantasies & Facts

Professor Matt 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 and computer simulations related to brain, mind, robots, and artificial intelligence.

FIYS 130: The Science of Cooking

Professor Elizabeth Fischer

Since 1992, the term molecular gastronomy has become part of understanding the world’s cuisine. This course examines the chemistry and physics of cooking, and the physiology of taste and flavor. We 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 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 work with a chef to perform experiments to elucidate the theory we will be studying. 

FIYS 138: 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 explores 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.

FIYS 140: Global Science Fiction

Professor Tessa Sermet

Science fiction is more popular than ever: it is almost impossible nowadays to avoid superhero movie “universes,” while dystopian novels such as The Handmaid’s Tale—and their TV adaptations—are everywhere. This market seems to be dominated by Anglo-American science fiction, but Anglophones do not have a monopoly on this genre. How does science fiction from other regions and languages embrace and address its (multi-) cultural diversity, and how does it differ from Anglo-American science fiction? Is the experience of reading science fiction different because that work originated in another language and culture? This course explores these questions through texts and films from all over the world. Even if originally published in other languages, all texts will be available in English.

FIYS 144: Sacred Spaces in Chicago and Beyond

Professor Ben Zeller

What do high-steeple churches, personal shrines, Japanese gardens, and monumental temples all have in common? All are examples of the creation, maintenance, and use of sacred spaces. Individuals and groups representing nearly every religious tradition make use of specially-designated buildings, grounds, and natural features. In this course, we study several examples of such sacred spaces, and ask how and why they are made and used as they are. We ask questions about architecture and design, but also focus on how the spaces are used. We look to what sort of spiritual practices take place inside them—everything from worship, ritual, and meditation to eating and drinking.

FIYS 146: 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.

FIYS 148: Fashion, Culture, and Communication

Professor 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 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 therefore situates 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 150: 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 contributes to success in any field.  This course explores the history of entrepreneurship through case studies, articles, and other activities. Students investigate the evolution of entrepreneurial best practices and pitfalls throughout the years.  We dissect recent successes and failures in the world of entrepreneurship, and examine the role of technology in the future of the field.

FIYS 152: The Politics of Population

Professor Danielle Cohen

When you were born, you joined about 6 billion other humans on this planet, but by 2050, the world’s population is expected to reach 9.7 billion. What are we going to do with everyone? In this course, we explore the intersections between population growth and its impact on security, economics, and the environment. We explore a range of national efforts to manage population growth, from China’s infamous “One Child Policy” to measures implemented in Japan and Singapore to encourage childbearing. We investigate how the international community shifted from a population control approach to one that prioritizes reproductive health, with accompanying debates surrounding reproductive choice; whether imbalanced sex ratios in a society lead to increased violence, including sex trafficking; and how sustainable development goals inform demographic policies, with particular attention to the impact on both women worldwide and on citizens of the Global South.

FIYS 154: The Irish in Chicago

Professor Anne Barry

This course places Irish history in context and examine the large-scale emigration from Ireland to the United States in the mid-19th century. It traces the destinations of the Irish as they settled in America and focuses primarily on those who came to Chicago. It researches where and how the Irish community lived in the city and surrounding areas. It examines 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 155: Chicago: Land of Hope

Professor Brian McCammack

In the half-century following World War I, millions of African Americans left the American South in the Great Migration. Settling in northern cities like Chicago, which many called the “Land of Hope,” black migrants dramatically reshaped American life and culture. This course explores the connections between that history of northward movement and African American cultural production and experiences.  We do this through a special focus on Chicago, where the black population grew from just over 44,000 to more than 1.1 million. We read closely and contextualize a variety of texts, including novels, plays, photographs, maps, sociological surveys, oral histories, and correspondence.  We examine the historical significance of these texts from a variety of disciplinary perspectives—including history, literary and film criticism, sociology, critical race studies, and cultural studies.

FIYS 163: Independent Media in Chicago

Professor David Park

This course focuses on the role played by independent media in the contemporary cultural landscape. Students 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 contextualize the importance of the independent media. This class features 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 get a first-hand look at what the production of culture looks like in the context of independent media in Chicago.

FIYS 166: The Uses and Misuses of Psychology

Professor Jean-Marie Maddux

Science can be a powerful tool to transform society, but the applications of scientific knowledge can result in either beneficial or detrimental outcomes, regardless of scientists’ intentions. This course examines the societal ramifications, both real and imagined, of landmark discoveries from the field of psychology. For example, the work of B.F. Skinner greatly increased our understanding of how both animal and human behavior can be shaped through interactions with the environment, but these same principles of operant conditioning have been used by the U.S. military to produce soldiers who are more effective at killing in combat. We consider social, cultural, political, financial, and historical contexts as influential moderators of both science itself as well as the ends for which it is used. Readings include a mix of scholarly literature, popular sources, and works of fiction.

FIYS 167: Baseball in Chicago

Professor Evan Oxman

America’s favorite pastime runs strong in Chicago. From the infamous 1919 “Black Sox” Scandal to Wrigley Field’s recent renovations, this is a sport that inspires lifelong loyalties and city-wide rivalries. This course will use a methodological framework to cover everything from graft to greatness, as we achieve an appreciation of baseball’s cultural import. Through the lens of baseball, we will view Chicago’s past and possible future, and we will inquire as to how a variety of academic disciplines, including history, sociology, anthropology, economics, politics, and religion help to illuminate our understanding of America’s national (and Chicago’s local) pastime. 

FIYS 170: Representation, Political and Personal

Professor Zachary Cook

The first year of college is an opportunity to consider what sociologist Erving Goffman called the “presentation of self,” or the ways that individuals try to make a favorable impression upon others. This course employs an interdisciplinary approach, with a bit of sociology, a bit of psychology, and a lot of political science, to investigate the ways in which people seek, as Dale Carnegie put it, to “win friends and influence people.” Many case studies are drawn from the interactions between politicians and the voters whose support they hope to win; after all, few individuals spend more time thinking rigorously about their presentation of self than elected officials and their staffers. We use examples from national politics, but also take field trips to meet with and observe elected officials around the North Shore and in Chicago. We investigate the art of political representation and how elected officials seek to win constituents’ trust, as well as the possibilities of personal “re-presentation” that first-year students engage in when they arrive in this new college environment.

FIYS 171: My Brain Made Me Do It: Neuroscientific Challenges to Free Will

Professor Paul Henne

We assume that people have free will. If someone decided to take this course, for instance, we would assume that they chose to take it freely. And if someone did something immoral like steal, we would think that they acted freely and that they should be held morally responsible for their actions as a result. While we may take free will for granted, many neuroscientists and philosophers claim that recent neuroscientific evidence offers new challenges to it. If, for example, our brains show patterns of activity that suggest we will make a particular decision before we are conscious of making it, did we decide freely or was our decision pre-determined? We explore these new challenges to free will and moral responsibility and the important moral puzzles that follow from them. For instance, should someone who commits assault—potentially due to the effects of an undiagnosed brain tumor—be imprisoned for that crime? In the course, students develop their analytic writing skills by clearly representing the arguments of the authors who present these new challenges and then by developing their own responses to them.

FIYS 173: Am I a “Normal” Kid? Analyzing Messages of Power and Cultural Hegemony in Youth Texts

Professor Jacquelynn Popp

Every type of text that young people encounter, from books and cartoons to songs, movies, and magazines, contains underlying messages about what is deemed “normal,” valued, and expected in our society. Such texts reflect the worldviews of dominant cultural groups (i.e., white, middle class, heteronormative), which serve to legitimize these views and minimize and oppress the norms and values of non-dominant groups. This course addresses issues of culture, power, oppression, and social justice; critical literacy theories. such as critical race theory and queer theory; and content/text analysis research methods. Students analyze a variety of texts aimed at youth such as advertisements, songs, and fiction books to study how the texts indirectly send messages about what is “normal” in our society and how they perpetuate the systemic marginalization of non-dominant cultural groups. Students also read scholarly works about cultural hegemony and critical literacy to inform their analysis of the youth texts.

FIYS 180: 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.

FIYS 183: 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 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.

FIYS 194: Peace Studies

Professor James Marquardt

This course explores the interdisciplinary field of scholarly inquiry and advocacy known as Peace Studies, which seeks paths to end violent conflict and build ethical and harmonious interpersonal, societal, and global relationships.  The course considers a range of peace-related topics, including peace concepts and disputes, peace networks, trends in violence, and gender and security.  Much of this course focuses on the peace advocacy of one of Chicago’s most famous social activists, Jane Addams (1860-1935).  Best known for her settlement work with poor immigrants in Chicago, Addams believed that pacifism would benefit marginalized populations, from poor immigrants in Chicago’s 19th Ward to industrial workers and farmers across the United States.  She passionately opposed World War I, believing strongly that people from different nations and cultures were capable of interacting peacefully to advance their shared interests, and that it was necessary to form international institutions that would resolve disputes diplomatically and ensure lasting international peace, security, prosperity, and justice.

FIYS 196: 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 examines 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 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. 

Class of 2024:

Admitted students can select six First-Year Studies courses (though they will only take one), by going here.