College Course Clusters

The College is launching a new, innovative curricular initiative. The Course Cluster Initiative is designed to continue the thematic focus and multidisciplinary perspective of the Core Curriculum; to expose students to ideas from the vantage point of different disciplines across the humanities, social, physical, and biological sciences; to stimulate and cultivate the student’s intellectual curiosity and sense of academic adventure; to help students structure their electives without imposing programmatic strictures and limiting the freedom of intellectual exploration.

Course Clusters consist of three or more courses on a common topic or issue that are offered over a span of two to three years. Course Clusters can be made up of existing courses or encourage the creation of new courses. Courses within a cluster can have different formats. They can be smaller seminars or larger lecture courses. The only prerequisite is that they have no prerequisites and are not designed primarily for minors/majors (even though they can count towards major requirements).

Course Clusters for 2018-2019

*The Course Cluster on The Renaissance has been developed into a minor. You can learn more about the minor in Renaissance Studies and its requirements on its College Catalog page.

Course Cluster: Chicago Studies

Chicago can be explored from nearly any academic perspective or discipline. Through courses that explore aspects of Chicago's ecology, culture, politics, history, social structure, and economic life, students deepen their knowledge of frameworks and approaches relevant to the study of Chicago and other cities. 

Students interested in a more immersive, interdisciplinary experience of the city should consider applying to the Chicago Studies Quarter, offered annually in the Spring.

Autumn 2018

ARTH 17410: Frank Lloyd Wright in Chicago and Beyond, Katherine Fischer Taylor

ARTH 24190: Imagining Chicago's Common Buildings, Luke Joyner

CRES 21201: Chicago Blues, Michael Dietler

ENST 21500: Environmental Justice, Ray Lodato

ENST 24600: Introduction to Urban Sciences, Luis Bettencourt

ENST 27155: Urban Design with Nature, Sabina Shaikh and Emily Talen

PBPL 28501: Process and Policy in State and City Government, Clayton Harris

TAPS 20750: The Adventures of Augie March, Nora Titone

Winter 2019

ARTH 17700: 19th Century French Art in the Art Institute, Martha Ward

PBPL 28501: Process and Policy in State and City Government, Clayton Harris

HMRT 26315: Reimaging Justice: The Chicago Police Torture Cases, Reparations, and Human Rights Practice, Alice Kim

ECON 22410: UChicago Economics: The People and the Seminal Ideas, Allen Sanderson

PBPL 24751: Exploring the Resilient City, Ray Lodato

CRWR 12131: Reading as a Writer: Chicagoans: The City in Short Story, Poem, and Nonfiction Reportage, Garrin Cycholl

Spring 2019

ARTH 18305: Art in Context: New Art in Chicago Museums, Darby English

ARTH 2/34170: Research the Chicago Cityspace, Katherine Fischer Taylor

ENST 22300: South Side Ecologies, Alison Anastasio

PBPL 28501: Process and Policy in State and City Government, Clayton Harris

TAPS 24500: Chicago Theater: Budgets and Buildings, Heidi Coleman

ENST 27125: Voices of Alterity and the Languages of Immigration, Angelina Ilieva

ENST 27210: Approaches to the Second City: Materials and Methods, Kaitlyn Tucker

ENST 27330: Spaces of Hope: The City and Its Immigrants, Nada Petkovic

SOSC 26003: Chicago by Design, Emily Talen

Course Cluster: Climate Change, Culture, and Society

The planetary scale of anthropogenic climate change challenges us to reassess many central questions in the humanities and social sciences from justice and power to truth and art. This new course cluster encourages students to explore the problem of climate change from a variety of disciplinary perspectives. Classes in History, Political Science, Classics, English, Philosophy, and other disciplines from the Social Sciences and the Humanities complement courses in the Physical and Biological Sciences. In addition to learning about the science of climate change in the latter the former will ask a host of questions: What were the historical roots of fossil fuel use? What can the human past teach us about our ability to cope with climate change? How will we ensure justice and human rights in the face of a threat that affects poor people and future generations disproportionately? In what ways might literature and art help understand and communicate climate change, and shape our sense of agency and hope in facing an uncertain future?

Autumn 2018

ENGL 12520: Climate Change in Literature, Art and Film, Benjamin Morgan

If meteorological data and models show us that climate change is real, art and literature explore what it means for our collective human life. This is the premise of many recent films, novels, and artworks that ask how a changing climate will affect human society. In this course, we will examine the aesthetics of climate change across media, in order to understand how narrative, image, and even sound help us witness a planetary disaster that is often imperceptible. Our approach will be comparative: what kind of story about climate change can a science fiction novel about a dystopian future tell, and how is this story different than, say, that of an art installation made of melting blocks of Arctic ice? Do different media tend to emphasize different aspects of ecological crisis? Readings and discussions will introduce students to some of the ways that humanities scholarship is contributing to climate change research. The syllabus may include Jeff VanderMeer, Annihilation (2014); Margaret Atwood, Oryx and Crake (2003); John Luther Adams, Become Ocean (2014); George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road (2015); and Amitav Ghosh, The Great Derangement (2016).

GEOS 23900: Environmental Chemistry, David Archer

The focus of this course is the fundamental science underlying issues of local and regional scale pollution. In particular, the lifetimes of important pollutants in the air, water, and soils are examined by considering the roles played by photochemistry, surface chemistry, biological processes, and dispersal into the surrounding environment. Specific topics include urban air quality, water quality, long-lived organic toxins, heavy metals, and indoor air pollution. Control measures are also considered.

GEOS 24220: Climate Foundations, TBD

This course introduces the basic physics governing the climate of planets, the Earth in particular but with some consideration of other planets. Topics include atmospheric thermodynamics of wet and dry atmospheres, the hydrological cycle, blackbody radiation, molecular absorption in the atmosphere, the basic principles of radiation balance, and diurnal and seasonal cycles. Students solve problems of increasing complexity, moving from pencil-and-paper problems to programming exercises, to determine surface and atmospheric temperatures and how they evolve. An introduction to scientific programming is provided, but the fluid dynamics of planetary flows is not covered.

PHSC 13400: Global Warming, David Archer and Douglas MacAyeal*

This course presents the science behind the forecast of global warming to enable the student to evaluate the likelihood and potential severity of anthropogenic climate change in the coming centuries. It includes an overview of the physics of the greenhouse effect, including comparisons with Venus and Mars; an overview of the carbon cycle in its role as a global thermostat; predictions and reliability of climate model forecasts of the greenhouse world.

Winter 2019

GEOS 13900: Biological Evolution, David Jablonski

This course is an introduction to evolutionary processes and patterns in present-day organisms and in the fossil record and how they are shaped by biological and physical forces. Topics emphasize evolutionary principles. They include DNA and the genetic code, the genetics of populations, the origins of species, and evolution above the species level. We also discuss major events in the history of life, such as the origin of complex cells, invasion of land, and mass extinction.

GEOS 22060: What Makes a Planet Habitable? Edwin Kite

This course explores the factors that determine how habitable planets form and evolve. We will discuss a range of topics, from the accretion and loss of atmospheres and oceans, to the long-term carbon cycle, climate dynamics, and the conditions that sustain liquid water on a planet's surface over timescales relevant to the origin and evolution of life. Students will be responsible for reading and discussing papers in peer-reviewed journals each meeting and for periodically preparing presentations and leading the discussion.

GEOS 23205: Introductory Glaciology, Douglas MacAyeal

The fundamentals of glacier and ice-sheet dynamics and phenomenology will be covered in this introductory course (snow and sea ice will be excluded from this course, however may be taken up in the future). Emphasis will be placed on developing the foundation of continuum mechanics and viscous fluid flow as a means of developing the basic equations of glacier deformation, ice-sheet and -shelf flow, basal processes, glacier hydrology, and unstable modes of flow. This course is intended for advanced undergraduate students in physics, math, geophysical sciences, and related fields as well as graduate students considering research in glaciology and climate dynamics.

GEOS 24300: Paleoclimatology, David Archer

PBPL 24756: Exploring the Resilient City, Ray Lodato

In recent years, sub-national units of government have enacted meaningful policy plans in the wake of the ongoing failure of the international community to address global climate change. Cities in particular have shaped their plans to address the now-inevitable effects of climate change by adopting policies that emphasize resilience and environmental protection, without sacrificing economic growth, and with attention to the ongoing challenges of poverty and inequality. This course will take a comparative look at the policies adopted by cities on an international basis, while defining what it means to be a resilient city and how much the built environment can be adjusted to limit the environmental impact of densely populated metropolises. It will also consider what impact citizen activism and input had upon the shape of each plan and the direction that its policies took. Students will also be asked to consider what might be missing from each plan and how each plan could be improved to foster greater resiliency.

Spring 2019

GEOS 24705: Energy: Science, Technology, and Human Usage, Elisabeth Moyer

This course covers the technologies by which humans appropriate energy for industrial and societal use, from steam turbines to internal combustion engines to photovoltaics. We also discuss the physics and economics of the resulting human energy system: fuel sources and relationship to energy flows in the Earth system; and modeling and simulation of energy production and use. Our goal is to provide a technical foundation for students interested in careers in the energy industry or in energy policy. Field trips required to major energy converters (e.g., coal-fired and nuclear power plants, oil refinery, biogas digester) and users (e.g., steel, fertilizer production).

NEHC 20464: Climate, Culture and Society in the Ancient Near East, Hervé Reculeau

Using primarily case studies from the Ancient Near East (from prehistory to the first millennium BCE) as a basis for discussion, the course will investigate the nature of the relationship between human societies and their environment, with a specific focus on situations of climatic change. Students will be invited to reflect on discourses on human-environment interactions from Herodotus to the IPCC, on notions such as environmental or social determinism, possibilism and reductionism, societal collapse and resilience, and on recent academic trends at the crossroads of Humanities, Social Sciences and Environmental Studies. This will allow them to develop critical skills that nurture their reflections on current debates on anthropogenic climate change and the Anthropocene.

*Students may opt to use PHSC 13400 or GEOS 23400 toward the Cluster, but not both.

Course Cluster: Economic History, from Sumer to the Global World

The Course Cluster "Economic History: from Sumer to the Global World" will propose every year up to three classes in economic history. We wish to cover a broad time span and a wide range of cultures. The classes will put a special emphasis on the methodology of economic history. The students will thus also be able to acquire a deep knowledge of the questions that are currently debated in this field.

Winter 2019

HIST 19402: Economic History II: The Early Modern World, c1300-1800, Paul Cheney & Ken Pomeranz

This course both describes preindustrial economic life and weighs the models used to explain fundamental changes to it. We will begin by describing some of the basic structures that determined patterns of production, exchange​, ​and consumption​​ in a period of low and easily reversible growth. These include agricultural productivity, demographic constraints, modes of transportation, and the social structures that governed the distribution of what little surplus premodern societies produced. Turning to the sources of economic dynamism that may have contributed to later industrialization, we will first examine the growth of long-distance trade networks starting in the late fourteenth century. How were traditional economies characterized by limited movement stimulated by the circulation of people, goods, and money from afar? We will then move to a discussion of the factors leading to (or frustrating) transformational patterns of economic growth: agricultural productivity, institutions, "proto-industrial" production in an era of limited urban growth,and changing norms of consumption. [ECON 12210]

Spring 2019

HIST 29533: Economic History III: Global Capitalism 1800, Jon Levy

This is the third part in the economic history sequence. Topics include the second Industrial Revolution and the new imperialism, the Great Depression and World War II, the American postwar world economic order, communism, and third-world development; globalization, growth, inequality, and climate change; the great recession.

Course Cluster: History of the Law

The development of law and legal systems is one of the defining hallmarks of societies from antiquity to the present. Abundant written evidence survives from the societies of the ancient Mediterranean, the Near East, South Asia, and East Asia. This cluster of courses will include deep dives into individual legal systems known from ancient societies in Greece, Rome, Babylonia, Assyria, Israel, Egypt, China, and India, as well as comparative investigations informed by historical and anthropological literatures.

Winter 2019

NEHC 20019: Mesopotamian Law, Martha Roth

Ancient Mesopotamia -- the home of the Sumerians, Babylonians, and Assyrians who wrote in cuneiform script on durable clay tablets -- was the locus of many of history’s “firsts.” No development, however, may be as important as the formations of legal systems and legal principles revealed in contracts, trial records, and law collections (“codes”), among which “The Laws of Hammurabi” (r. 1792-1750 BC) stands as most important for understanding subsequent legal practice and thought of Mesopotamia’s cultural heirs in the Middle East and Europe until today. This course will explore the rich source materials of the Laws and relevant judicial and administration documents (all in English translations) to investigate topics of legal, social, and economic practice including family formation and dissolution, crime and punishment (sympathetic or talionic “eye for an eye,” pecuniary, corporal), and procedure (contracts, trials, ordeals). [NEHC 30019, LLSO 20019]

Course Cluster: Inequality

The problem of inequality has been an abiding concern in the social sciences and humanities. In recent years it has attracted heightened attention and inspired scholarly innovation, fostering real ferment among those seeking to understand the mainsprings of the modern world. To understand such an abiding aspect of social and cultural organization requires a broad set of analytical resources and intellectual perspectives. Drawing on a range of methodologies, students will trace and examine the sources and challenges of inequality and mobility in many of its dimensions, selecting from courses in Economics, History, Political Science, Gender and Sexuality Studies, Public Policy, and other disciplines across the divisions. The broad, considered lens offered by this approach will allow students in the cluster to understand more fully the dynamics and consequences of inequality in modern culture and society and its roots in persistent patters of distribution of wealth, income, education, and social and other kinds of capital.

Autumn 2018


Winter 2019

ECON 24720: Inequality: Origins, Dimensions, and Policy, Allen Sanderson

For the last three decades, incomes in the United States and across the globe have grown more unequal. That fact has attracted worldwide attention from scholars, governments, religious figures, and public intellectuals. In this interdisciplinary course, participating faculty members drawn from across the University and invited guest speakers will trace and examine the sources and challenges of inequality and mobility in many of its dimensions, from economic, political, legal, biological, philosophical, public policy, and other perspectives.

Spring 2019


College Cluster: Urban Design

Urban design concerns the proactive effort to create human settlements of a particular character and quality. The study of urban design is an opportunity to evaluate the difference between ideal and actuality, gaining an understanding of what urban designers are trying to do and why and evaluating the reasons behind apparent successes and failures. Students will explore the history, theory, and practice of urban design from multiple perspectives, from historical surveys to more contemporary investigations of urban interventions and their effect on social change, in courses offered through Art History, Geographical Studies, History, Anthropology, Sociology, Comparative Human Development, and other disciplines from the Social Sciences and Humanities. Whether urban design is capable of balancing social equity, aesthetic achievement, economic growth, and environmental stewardship is of key interest within the field, practice, and study of urban design. How do we leverage meaningful public engagement in the urban design process? How do we balance individual expression and a sense of the collective? Students will engage with these fundamental problems in diverse contexts across the cluster.

Autumn 2018

ARTH 16709: Islamic Art & Architecture, 1100-1500, Persis Berlekamp

This course surveys the art and architecture of the Islamic world from 1100-1500. In that period, political fragmentation into multiple principalities challenged a deeply rooted ideology of unity of the Islamic world. The courts of the various principalities competed not only in politics, but also in the patronage of architectural projects and of arts such as textiles, ceramics, woodwork, and the arts of the book. While focusing on the central Islamic lands, we will consider regional traditions from Spain to India and the importance for the arts of contacts with China and the West.

ARTH 17410: Frank Lloyd Wright in Chicago and Beyond, Katherine Taylor

This course looks at Wright's work from multiple angles, examining his architecture, urbanism, relationship to the built environment and socio-cultural context of his lifetime, and legend. We'll take advantage of the Robie House on campus and the rich legacy of Wright's early work in Chicago; we'll also think about his later "Usonian" houses for middle-income clients and the urban framework he imagined for his work ("Broadacre City"), as well as his Wisconsin headquarters (Taliesin), and spectacular works like the Johnson Wax Factory (a required one-day Friday field trip, if funds permit), Fallingwater, and the Guggenheim Museum. By examining on architect's work in context, students will gain experience analyzing buildings and their siting, and interpreting them in light of their complex ingredients and circumstances. The overall goal is to provide an introduction to thinking about architecture and urbanism.

ARTH 24190: Imagining Chicago's Common Buildings, Luke Joyner

This class is an architectural studio based in the common residential buildings of Chicago and the city's built environment. While design projects and architectural skills will be the focus of the class, it will also incorporate readings, a small amount of writing, some social and geographical history, and several explorations around Chicago. The studio will: (1) give students interested in pursuing architecture or the study of cities experience with a studio class and some skills related to architectural thinking, (2) acquaint students intimately with Chicago's common residential buildings and built fabric, and (3) situate all this within a context of social thought about residential architecture, common buildings, housing, and the city.

ARTH 27420: Modernist Architecture on Campus, Katherine Taylor

How have universities brought modern architecture into campuses designed in traditional architectural styles, whether classical or medieval? How have they balanced architecture's capacity to exemplify a consistent institutional image and to symbolize innovative leadership? Can the two be integrated, whether in single new buildings, renovations of old buildings, or groupings of old and new? What effect do new building materials, methods, and technologies, as well as new purposes for buildings, have on these questions? While acknowledging other institutions, the course will focus on our own campus history, examining varied approaches to updating our collegiate Gothic campus architecture and layout from the construction of Levi Hall (the Administration Building) in the 1940s to the present. We will analyze buildings and campus plans in relation to the abundant and largely unstudied drawings and related building documents at Special Collections, and work together to interpret the histories we produce in the context of the broader, changeful history of modernist architecture and its debates. Our work will lay the foundation for a future architectural exhibition.

CHDV 20305: Inequality in Urban Spaces, Micere Keels

The problems confronting urban schools are bound to the social, economic, and political conditions of the urban environments in which schools reside. Thus, this course will explore social, economic, and political issues, with an emphasis on issues of race and class as they have affected the distribution of equal educational opportunities in urban schools. We will focus on the ways in which family, school, and neighborhood characteristics intersect to shape the divergent outcomes of low- and middle-income children residing with any given neighborhood. Students will tackle an important issue affecting the residents and schools in one Chicago neighborhood.

ENST 27155: Urban Design With Nature, Sabina Shaik & Emily Talen

This course will use the Chicago region as a laboratory for evaluating the social, environmental, and economic effects of alternative forms of human settlement. Students will be introduced to the basics of geographic information systems (GIS) and use GIS to map Chicago's "place types" - human habitats that vary along an urban-to-rural transect, as well as the ecosystem services provided by the types. They will then evaluate these place types using a range of social, economic and environmental criteria. In this way, students will evaluate the region's potential to simultaneously realize economic potential, protect environmental health, and provide social connectivity.

SOSC 25006: How Things Get Done in Cities and Why, Nicole Marwell

Innovation. Prosperity. Democracy. Diversity. Cities long have been lauded as unique incubators of these social features.  In contrast to the national level, the smaller scale and dense diversity of cities is thought to encourage the development of civic solutions that work for the many.  But cities are inhabited by distinct groups of people with divergent interests and varied beliefs about how to address countless urban issues, such as creating jobs, delivering education, ensuring safe neighborhoods, promoting environmental sustainability, and taking care of the vulnerable.  Many groups and organizations have an interest in the outcomes of these processes.  Some take action to try to shape them to their own advantage, while others have few chances to make themselves heard.  This course examines dynamics of interest representation, decision-making, and inclusion/exclusion in the contemporary city, drawing insights from multiple disciplines and substantive domains.

Winter 2019


Spring 2019


Not Offered 2018-2019

ANTH 22015: Is Development Sustainable?, Alan Kolata

ARTH 17310: Between the Agora and the Shopping Mall, Niall Atkinson

ARTH 17708: The Plan: Diagramming Modernity in the Twentieth Century, Amy Thomas

ARTH 18606: Structuring China's Built Environment, Wei-Cheng Lin

ARTH 20506: Pompeii: Life, Death and Afterlife of a Roman City, Patrick Crowley

ARTH 24170: Research the Chicago Cityscape, Katherine Taylor

ARTH 25106: Art & Urbanism at Teotihuacan, Claudia Brittenham

ARTH 28606: Early 20th-Century Urban Visions, Katherine Taylor

CLCV 20517: The First Great Transformation: The Economies of the Ancient World, Alain Bresson

CLCV 25808: Roman Law, Clifford Ando

ECON 24450: Inequality and the Social Safety Net, Manu Deshpande

ENGL 26250: Richer and Poorer: Income Inequality, Elaine Hadley

GEOG 22700: Urban Structure and Process, Forrest Stuart

GEOG 23500: Urban Geography, Michael Conzen

GEOG 23700: Placing Chicago: Geographical Perspectives on a Global City, Michael Conzen

GEOG 24000: Chicago Neighborhoods, Emily Talen

GEOG 24300: Chicago by Design, Emily Talen

GEOG 26100: Roots of the Modern American City, Michael Conzen

GEOG 26900: Understanding Community: Civic Engagement and Public Policy, Charles Barlow

GEOS 23400: Global Warming for Science Majors, David Archer and Douglas MacAyeal

GNSE 11006: Problems in the Study of Gender and Sexuality: Inequality, Rochona Majumdar

HIST 17504: Science, Culture, and Society in Western Civilization III: The Environment, Fredrik Albritton Jonsson

HIST 26511: Cities from Scratch: The History of Urban Latin America, Brodwyn Fischer

HIST 28802: US Labor History, Amy Stanley

HIST 29656: Urban Histories - Experiencing, Using, and Representing the City, Leora Auslander

HIST 29668: Economic Growth in Theory and Practice, Fredrik Albritton Jonsson

PBPL 28050: Remaking Chicago: The City That Works on Social Change, Chad Broughton

PLSC 21802: Global Justice and the Politics of Empire, Adom Getachew and James Wilson

PLSC 23313: Democracy and Equality, James Wilson

SOCI 20120: Urban Policy Analysis, Terry Clark

SOSC 25002: Social Welfare Policy and Services, Marci Ybarra

SOSC 25003: Immigration, Law, and Society, Angela Garcia

SOSC 25005: Inequality at Work: The Changing Nature of Working Class Jobs and Prospects for Improvement, Susan Lambert