First-Year Interdisciplinary Sequences

These videos showcase just three of our many sequences. Watch them to learn more about what a sequence is like from the perspectives of both students and faculty! See course descriptions below videos for Fall 2020 and Winter 2021. To better understand the format listed for each class please watch this video

Big History

The Middle East Beyond the Headlines

Design Thinking for Social Product Innovation

Please note:

As of August 12, 2020 the following sequences are available, all other sequences are closed and not currently open for additional students: 

-The Middle East Beyond the Headlines

-American Modern

-East Asia and the World: Ideas, Inventions, and Power

-Big History

-The Worlds of Greece and Rome

The Middle East Beyond the Headlines

Coeli Fitzpatrick and Majd Al-Mallah

Fall: HNR 151 01 MW 12:00-1:15pm and HNR 152 01 MW 1:30-2:45pm [Format: Staggered Hybrid]

Winter: HNR 153 01 MW 12:00-1:15pm and HNR 154 01 MW 1:30-2:45pm [Format: Traditional Face-to-Face]

We’ve all watched the news. We’ve read the headlines. We’ve seen movies where there are Arab and Muslim characters. Therefore, we know about the region and its peoples, right? What more is there to learn? In truth, most people would say that they know enough about the Middle East. That they know enough about Arabs. About Muslims. The premise behind this class is that the Middle East is a vast region with complexity that we ought to explore beyond what’s readily available through media and popular film. Because the region is generally covered through a limited lens, this class tries to get behind the headlines to uncover the layers of complexity that make up both this region we call “The Middle East” and its multiple peoples, religions, languages, and cultures. The ultimate goal is to reach a nuanced and educated way of “knowing”. We also think about what goes into the construction of headlines. How have we come to think about the region in such simplistic ways? Why do we know so little about the cultures and the important contributions to humanity? Can we name a single Arab author? Our class is a discussion-based class, meaning that we don’t like to just lecture—we want to talk about what we are reading, seeing, and hearing. We value working in communities/teams, and strive to prepare students to be informed global citizens with sensitivity and cultural competency. We use a variety of ways to assess work, never limited to one method. We use different types of writing: blog posts, short essays, reading briefs, and some formal essays.

American Modern

Steve Tripp and Michael Webster

Fall: HNR 151 03 MW 3:00-4:15pm and HNR 152 03 MW 4:30-5:45pm [Format: Synchronous Online]

Winter: HNR 153 03 MW 3:00-4:15pm and HNR 154 03 MW 4:30-5:45pm [Format: Traditional Face-to-Face]

This four-course interdisciplinary Honors sequence focuses on the United States during the twentieth century, what publisher Henry Luce boldly identified as the “American Century.” Through literature, poetry, film, autobiography, oral histories, art, photography, and music, we will examine the lives of people who lived through the Jazz Age, the Great Depression, two world wars, de-industrialization, and the advent of mass society.  During the Fall semester, we will pay particular attention to the concept of Modernity in all its fragmented, accelerated, technological glory. In the Winter, we will consider the fate of Modernity amidst the social, political, and cultural upheaval of post-World War II America. Course includes highly interactive learning experiences, including group work, probing class discussion, and two elaborate role-playing games (one each semester).  More traditional forms of assessment include reading quizzes, written exams, and interpretive and analytical essays. Engaging and enlightening.

East Asia and The World: Ideas, Inventions, and Power

Craig Benjamin and Yan Liang

Fall: HNR 151 06 MW 3:00-4:15pm and HNR 152 06 MW 4:30-5:45pm [Format: Synchronous Online to Start]

Winter: HNR 153 06 MW 3:00-4:15pm and HNR 154 06 MW 4:30-5:45pm [Format: Traditional Face-to-Face]

This two-semester sequence explores the rich history and culture of China, Japan, and Korea from ancient times to the present. China has the longest continuous history of any civilization on Earth and is a nation undergoing rapid economic growth and social and political transformation. Japan and Korea also have long histories and have developed their unique cultures and fascinating lifeways. These East Asian countries have interacted and influenced each other through a long history of cultural and material exchanges. Collectively they constitute one of the most dynamic regions of the planet, and they have made a tremendous intellectual and technological contribution to global culture.  It is these contributions that are the main focus of the course.

East Asia and the World: Ideas, Inventions, and Power, is taught by Professor Yan Liang, a specialist in Chinese language and East Asian literature, and Professor Craig Benjamin, an historian who has published many books and articles on ancient Eurasian history.  Both sections of the course feature intensive full-class discussion, student presentations, and essay writing in a variety of styles. We also undertake many excursions, including outdoor activities, cultural and scientific experiences, and a full-day trip to Chicago, as we spend an exciting year together, inside and outside of the classroom, investigating the fascinating history and culture of this dynamic region of the world!

Big History

Craig Benjamin and various guest instructors

Fall: HNR 151 11 TR 2:30-3:45pm and HNR 152 11 TR 4:00-5:15pm [Format: Synchronous Online to Start]

Winter: HNR 153 11 TR 2:30-3:45 and HNR 154 11 TR 4:00-5:15pm [Format: Traditional Face-to-Face]

Big history is all about the BIG questions! How did the universe begin? How were the first stars formed?  What forces have shaped planet Earth over the past 4.56 billion years?  How did life appear on a lifeless planet; and how has life changed and evolved over billions of years?  How long have modern humans been around?  What makes us ‘different’ from all other species? What sort of lifeways have humans pursued since we appeared?  How many complex cultures and civilizations have risen and fallen? What is the modern revolution? What is the state of our planet right now? And where are we headed in the future?

Big History: Between Nothing and Everything explores these questions across two action-packed semesters.  The course is primarily taught by Craig Benjamin, one of the pioneers in the field and author of numerous big history publications.  He will be joined occasionally by professors from other academic disciplines who will share their expertise through guest lectures. 50% of class time is devoted to intensive, full-class discussion; and students also learn how to research and write a range of different types of essays.  We also undertake many excursions, including outdoor activities, cultural and scientific experiences, and a full-day trip to Chicago, as we spend an exciting year together, inside and outside of the classroom, exploring the BIG history of everything!

The Worlds of Greece and Rome

Charles Pazdernik, David Crane (Fall) and Charles Ham (Winter)

Fall: HNR 151 02 MWF 1:00-1:50pm and HNR 152 02 MWF 2:00-2:50pm [Format: Staggered Hybrid]

Winter: HNR 153 02 MWF 1:00-1:50pm and HNR 154 02 MWF 2:00-2:50pm [Format: Traditional Face-to-Face]

Ancient Greece and Rome are among the world's most exciting, important, and influential civilizations. Taught by researchers into various aspects of classical antiquity from Homer to the fall of the Roman Empire and beyond, the course asks participants to cooperate actively and enthusiastically in exploring mythology, history, art and archaeology, literature, and philosophy. Interactive learning experiences, which might include pottery projects, immersive role-playing games, and field trips, complement spirited class discussions and careful attention to close reading, effective writing, and critical thinking. No prior knowledge is necessary (all texts are in translation).

Civil Rights & Social Movements

Leifa Mayers and Naoki Kanaboshi

Fall: HNR 151 13 TR 10:00-11:15am and HNR 152 13 TR 11:30-12:45pm [Format: Synchronous Online]

Winter: HNR 153 13 TR 10:00-11:15am and HNR 154 13 TR 11:30-12:45pm [Format: Synchronous Online]

Is the law fair and just? How are different groups of people treated in the legal system? What happens when people confront perceived injustices in the system? This sequence will use frameworks of social justice and civil rights to explore the interactions of U.S. law and society. We will examine how the law incorporates notions of justice and how society makes demands for legal change. Specific topics include the experiences and treatment of people of color, women, LGBTQ folks, and immigrants in employment, education, housing, health care, and law enforcement. Students will get hands-on experience analyzing actual legal cases and strategies used in movements such as Black Lives Matter and #MeToo. 

Dangerous Ideas

Ellen Adams and David Eick

Fall: HNR 151 04 TR 10:00-11:15am and HNR 152 04 TR 11:30-12:45pm [Format: Staggered Hybrid and Online]

Winter: HNR 153 04 TR 10:00-11:15am and HNR 154 04 TR 11:30-12:45 [Format: Traditional Face-to-Face]

We are culturally socialized to avoid difficult conversations—don’t talk about religion, sex, or politics at a dinner party! Not often do we substantively engage with one another about contentious, offensive, and potentially dangerous ideas. This course focuses on objects and texts originally deemed offensive or dangerous for their questioning of orthodoxy and experimentations with artistic and literary conventions but are now considered canonical works.  Art and literature offer opportunities to explore incendiary notions such as such as morality, evil, freedom, sex, racism, obscenity, tradition/progress, religion, and others. Many artists and writers make work that incites emotional responses that can be powerful, polarizing, impactful, and/or divisive. How can art and literature facilitate difficult conversations? For example, how do we distinguish between “free” speech that is legitimate and “hate” speech that incites violence?  How should art and literature represent the world to its audience? How can we account for viewers’ and readers’ wildly divergent reactions to the same work? And, finally, who determines the meaning and value of a work of art?  Throughout the year students will practice framing questions to allow space for meaningful discourse.

In this course, students will play Reacting to the Past (RTTP) role-playing games, The Enlightenment in Crisis: Diderot’s Encyclopédie in a Parisian Salon (1750-?) and Rousseau, Burke and Revolution in France (1791). In RTTP games, students are assigned roles with victory objectives. In order to prevail, they must read complex texts closely, deliver persuasive speeches, write effectively, conduct library research, collaborate, and take creative initiative to solve problems. We will also read novels, study art history through traditional means as well as through group projects, and take field trips to museums, the symphony, and other locations as opportunities arise.

Spain in Europe: Gender, Class, and Race

Grace Coolidge, Diane Wright (Fall), and Gabriela Pozzi (Winter)

Fall: HNR 151 05 TR 1:00-2:15pm and HNR 152 05 TR 2:30-3:45pm [Format: Staggered Hybrid]

Winter: HNR 153 05 TR 1:00-2:15pm and HNR 154 05 TR 2:30-3:45pm [Format: Synchronous Online]

While this course covers all of European history and culture, we put a special emphasis on Spain. Spain occupied a unique historical and geographical position as the cultural crossroad of East and West, where the three “peoples of the book” (Christians, Jews and Muslims) coexisted in complex patterns of harmony and tension.  The Spanish empire dominated the early modern world, and Spain was home to a rich cultural Renaissance.  By contrast, twentieth-century Spain survived a brutal civil war and the longest-running Fascist dictatorship in European history to become a thriving modern democracy.  We explore the twists and turns of Spanish history and compare and contrast Spain to the rest of Europe, learning about its uniqueness as well as about the common ties that bind it to the mainland.  The course covers Spanish and European history and culture from the medieval period to the present day European union.  We learn how to cure love-sickness, follow a gender non-conforming nun in her adventures across Spain and the new world, meet the famous witch Celestina, and wrestle with the Frankenstein monster.  In the 19th century the class uses a six-week simulation in which students play the parts of workers and factory owners caught up in the Industrial Revolution, making choices and living with the consequences in this fast-changing culture.   We explore the tragic, disillusioned poetry of World War One, the impact of the Holocaust, and the slow rebuilding of a traumatized Europe into today’s European Union.  The class puts special emphasis on learning to write historical and literary essays and to handle a college-level reading load, skills that will benefit students in any discipline they pursue.


Alliance and Conflict: World Construction in Religion and Society

Jeremiah Cataldo and Dwayne Tunstall

Fall: HNR 151 07 MW 10:00-11:15am and HNR 152 07 MW 11:30-12:45 [Format: Staggered Hybrid]

Winter: HNR 153 07 MW 10:00-11:15am and HNR 153 08 MW 11:30-12:45 [Format: Traditional Face-to-Face]

At the heart of every social relationship, whether among human collectives or with the natural world, exists either alliance or conflict. In this sequence, we will investigate the nature of those relationships as they take place in religious, social, and political groups, with a particular focus on the alliances and the conflicts between them.

Through relational dialogue and debate, intercultural experiences, and community interviews, we will explore different religious and political conflicts. We will immerse ourselves in experiential learning as we spend time in the field with different religious communities. We will also analyze contemporary social problems and work towards proposals to solve those problems. Drawing upon texts spanning from the second millennium BCE to the present that deal with important elements of social, political, and religious identity, we will integrate different critical theories in various social-scientific studies, philosophy, religion, history, politics, theology, literature, and more. By the end of the sequence, we will have an understanding of how religion and society are mutually dependent, and how that interdependency shapes us even today. In addition, the theories and analytical procedures used throughout the sequence will provide helpful tools for critical analysis in other courses in the humanities and the social sciences.

Food for Thought

Amy McFarland, Jody Vogelzang (Fall), and Kelly Parker (Winter)

Fall: HNR 151 08 TR 11:30-12:45pm and HNR 152 08 TR 1:00-2:15pm [Format: Online and Synchronous Online]

Winter: HNR 153 08 TR 11:30-12:45pm and HNR 154 08 TR 1:00-2:15pm [Format: Traditional Face-to-Face]

This sequence examines food—from seed to waste and beyond—and its impact on ourselves, our communities, and our planet. We will explore the cultural, scientific, and economic “evolution” of our food systems, both within the United States and abroad. We will investigate the causes and consequences of producing food for the ever-growing modern world, including issues of excess, waste, and the hidden environmental, economic and social costs. The sequence will pay special attention to ethics and the social consequences of our food choices.

Across both semesters, we will utilize large and small group discussion, co-curricular activities, and hands-on and written exercises to explore issues, apply knowledge and skills, and critically evaluate our assumptions about and understanding of food.

Design Thinking for Social Product Innovation

Paul Lane and Ryan Lafferty

Fall: HNR 151 10 W 3:00-5:50pm and HNR 152 10 W 6:00-8:50pm [Format: Traditional Face-to-Face]

Winter: HNR 153 10 W 3:00-5:50pm and HNR 154 10 W 6:00-8:50pm [Format: Traditional Face-to-Face]

Networking, ideating, creating. The focus of this course is to cultivate creative ideas surrounding global sustainability at the base of the economic pyramid using the design thinking process. With design thinking, we analyze a problem, look at the context and culture surrounding the problem, then ideate and conceptualize a product that may be a possible part of the solution. This course develops integral communication skills through public speaking, writing, and sketching. This class is a whirlwind of high-energy, collaborative activities with an environment that encourages creativity. It is a project-based course that stimulates a variety of interdisciplinary thinking styles while fostering empathy from a global perspective. Past students who have taken and succeeded in this course come from a variety of academic disciplines and continue to apply concepts from DTSPI in their lives post-sequence.

Culture, Power & Inequality

Joel Stillerman and Heather Van Wormer

Fall: HNR 151 12 TR 11:30-12:45pm and HNR 152 12 TR 1:00-2:15pm [Format: Online and Staggered Hybrid]

Winter: HNR 153 12 TR 11:30-12:45pm and HNR 154 12 TR 1:00-2:15pm [Format: Traditional Face-to-Face]

Why do the three richest people in the U.S. have as much wealth as the poorest half of the population? Why is sexual assault so widespread even though it is illegal? If race does not matter, why are black women more likely to die of breast cancer than white women?  In a time when gay marriage is legal in the U.S., why is the existence of transgender bathrooms deemed dangerous?  What are the sources of power and powerlessness in societies?  We explore these questions by addressing the social and cultural systems that shape our opportunities and behavior even when we are not aware of them.  We will investigate some pressing current topics, such as global income inequality, social injustice and oppression, environmental racism, unequal access to healthcare, the uncertain effects of digital technology on our world, and other issues of power and inequality.  We will also explore how people unite to resist the corrosive effects of systemic inequality and oppression through political participation, protest, online activism, creative expression, and other forms of collective action. We will examine these issues of inequality and protest in the U.S. and around the world.  Students will have the opportunity to explore some of these issues through small, independent research projects based on their specific interests both inside and outside the classroom.  Students will gain experience with writing-to-learn and writing-for-mastery assignments as well as guided revisions of their writing.  Classroom activities will include lecture, discussion, student presentations, multi-media activities, and field trips.

Water for a Changing World

Peter Wampler, Eric Snyder (Fall), and Tara Hefferan (Winter)

Fall: HNR 151 14 TR 8:30-9:45am and HNR 152 14 TR 10:00-11:15am [Format: Staggered Hybrid]

Winter: HNR 153 14 TR 8:30-9:45 and HNR 154 14 TR 10:00-11:15am [Format: Traditional Face-to-Face]

Water is life. It shapes where we live, how we live, and if we live. Water is fundamental to many of the activities and actions we engage in both as individuals and as communities. Is safe water a human right that all people on earth should enjoy? Why do 2.1 billion people on this planet lack access to safe water in their homes? What cultural context informs our decisions about water in the United States and globally? This interdisciplinary course will explore these questions through books, articles, class discussions, guest speakers, field trips, and hands-on activities. We will take a deep dive into the science and social implications of contemporary water challenges and issues using tools, data, and perspectives from biology, geology, and cultural anthropology. We will explore contemporary water-related challenges such as lead, mercury, and PFAs in drinking water supplies; water use and allocation in the Great Lakes Watershed; and balancing competing values in the restoration of the Grand River and other waterways. 

The course will provide many opportunities to engage with your peers in open-ended problem solving and discussion of a range of water issues within their social and cultural context. We will explore water issues in developing nations such as Haiti, Ghana, and Ecuador. As we explore global water issues we will provide diverse viewpoints, perspectives, and opportunities for exploring how our own cultural context may impact our views of complicated water-related issues within the United States and internationally. 

American Voices and Visions

Kurt Ellenberger, Roger Gilles (Fall), and Rob Franciosi (Winter)

Fall: HNR 151 15 TR 2:30-3:45pm and HNR 152 15 TR 4:00-5:15pm [Format: Traditional Face-to-Face]

Winter: HNR 153 15 TR 2:30-3:45 and HNR 154 15 TR 4:00-5:15pm [Format: Traditional Face-to-Face]

American art, literature, and music shocked, challenged, and enthralled the world in the twentieth century. “Make It New!” the poet Ezra Pound declared, and this course will examine major artists, musicians, and authors whose work expressed this American passion for the new. Focusing on the societal conditions that surrounded these works, as well as their influence on the wider culture, we will study a range twentieth-century artistic movements, with a particular emphasis on how these voices and visions challenged, extended, enhanced, complicated, and even undercut what it means to be an American.

New World Odyssey

Gary Greer, John Weber (Fall), and Jim Penn (Winter)

Fall: HNR 151 16 MW 9:00-10:15am and HNR 152 16 MW 10:30-11:45am [Format: Staggered Hybrid]

Winter: HNR 153 16 MW 9:00-10:15am and HNR 154 16 MW 10:30-11:45am [Format: Traditional Face-to-Face]

This sequence explores the geology, biology, and human geography of the Americas, and the processes that produced this history and continue to drive it today.  Several hundred million years ago, the supercontinent Pangea was assembled.  Global climate and the evolution of life were drastically affected by Pangea’s assembly, breakup, and fragment collisions.  A million years ago, glaciers began ruling the planet.  Approximately 14,000 years ago the Americas were colonized by humans, first from Asia and then much later from Europe, Africa, and elsewhere. Finally, Pangea was virtually re-connected via post-Columbian New-to-Old World trade. The two Fall courses in this sequence explore the geological and biological odyssey of the Americas.  The two Winter courses include an exploration of the human geography and history of the Americas and a project-based course that utilizes student-team exploration of a topic synthesizing geology, biology, and human geography.