Humanities Program To Offer New Freshman Seminar

Julie French

By Julie FrenchThe Daily Northwestern

A select group of incoming freshmen will have the chance to ponder the evolution of society in a new humanities program that expands on the current freshman seminars.

Forty-eight students from Weinberg and the School of Communication will be selected to take part in the inaugural year of the Kaplan Humanities Scholars Program. They will take a total of four classes together – one lecture and one seminar each in Fall and Winter Quarters – to answer the question “What makes a good society?”

“It’s not just reading Plato’s ‘Republic’ or Thomas More’s ‘Utopia’,” said Prof. Ken Alder, the program’s director. “It’s also thinking about things like Facebook and how it has transformed society.”

The program is unique because the classes will be taught by teams of three professors, and the length will allow students to do more in-depth investigation than is possible in a one-quarter class.

After studying similar programs at Stanford and Yale, Alder came up with a format that built off of NU’s freshman seminar and advising program. He asked faculty to submit proposals for interdisciplinary classes they would want to teach.

English Prof. Carl Smith is set to teach the Fall Quarter class entitled “Brave New Worlds” that he proposed with English Prof. Kasey Evans and History Prof. Henry Binford.

Smith said he is looking forward to having synergy between courses and professors with different areas of expertise. The combination of lecture and seminar will allow them to cover twice as much material in a quarter, he added.

“It looks like a lot of work and a lot of fun, and that’s what makes it appealing,” he said.

In Winter Quarter, students will take “Confronting Capitalism,” taught by professors from the Slavic and American Studies departments. Each lecture course will count toward a specific Weinberg distribution requirement.

The classes, open to freshmen from all majors in Weinberg and Communication, will also take advantage of the Chicago-area’s resources, Alder said. Possible field trips include the Art Institute of Chicago or the town of Pullman, Ill., a failed utopian community built in the 1880s.

The program is part of a larger expansion of the Alice Kaplan Institute for the Humanities at NU, according to Weinberg Associate Dean Mary Finn.

“Kaplan wants to see everybody in all walks of life have the opportunity to think about the big questions and be reflective, even as they learn to be research scientists, economists and anthropologists,” she said.

Incoming Weinberg freshman Huiju Jeon said she is interested in the program because she wants to learn how she can make a contribution to society instead of focusing solely on earning an income.

“I love humanities and although I’m going to major in economics, I think it’s really important to know where I am from and how our society has been nurtured,” she said.

Claire Christenson said she is also interested in the program, but wasn’t sure if she would have time as a dual-degree student in Weinberg and School of Music.

“It seems like a good place to get to know people and work with them for two quarters,” she said. “It seems like there would be a lot of discussion.”

Students who indicate interest in the program when they select their freshman seminar preferences will be considered for the program based on their NU entrance applications.

Although the program will be limited to 48 students this fall, Alder said he hopes it will double to 96 students next school year, with the possibility of further expansion in the future.

Reach Julie French at [email protected]