Big Ideas courses are co-designed by two or more faculty members with expertise in different disciplines and engage with more than one distribution area (thereby earning credit in those two distributional areas with a single course). Students will be limited to one Big Ideas course per semester.



IDEA 130

 Chernobyl: Man-made Disaster

Jonathan Becker

Matthew Deady

 T  Th 11:50 am-1:10 pm

   W     10:10 am-12:10 pm

HEG 201

HEG 107



Cross-listed: Environmental & Urban Studies; Natural Science; Political Studies 

6 credits  We will employ the Chernobyl disaster as a case study of the environmental and human consequences of technology. In April 1986, the nuclear power plant in Chernobyl, Ukraine suffered a major technical problem leading to a meltdown in the reactor core. The radiation release and ensuing clean-up operation required the Soviet authorities to evacuate a large local region, affecting millions of people and leaving a region which is mostly uninhabited to this day. Chernobyl remains the worst civilian nuclear accident in history and its aftermath offers scientific, social, and political insights. This "big ideas" course will take an interdisciplinary approach to the meaning of Chernobyl: it will explore the issue of nuclear power, the social and technological aspects of the plant's construction and operation, what led to the accident, the authorities' response to it, and the environmental and social impacts on the region since that time. Laboratory sessions will focus on the physics of nuclear power and radiation, the biological effect of radiation, and the environmental impact of the Chernobyl accident. Parallel consideration will be given to its implications for Soviet governance, nuclear energy and proliferation, and the social impacts of Chernobyl and human-created nuclear and non-nuclear disasters. Examining this event in readings, lectures, and laboratory investigations will foster a deeper appreciation of the complex and interconnected contexts in which such disasters must be studied in order to be understood. The course will feature guest lectures in science, politics, human rights and literature, speaking on issues arising from the accident.  Class size: 16



IDEA 215

 OF Utopias

Kevin Duong

Olga Touloumi

 T Th   10:10am-12:30pm

HEG 204





Cross-listed: Art History, Environmental & Urban Studies, Experimental Humanities, Political Studies

6 credits  This class explores the theory and practice of utopia from an interdisciplinary perspective. Utopias have always been imagined through a variety of mediums like the manifesto, the blueprint, and visual and performing arts. The course investigates the manifold scales of utopian articulation and realization, from tiny communities to project designing the entire globe. Combining the history of political thought and architectural history, the class will use the concept of utopia to map out the ways that men and women have sought to transform the spatial, psychic, and social landscapes they inhabited. What can we learn from the utopian imperative? What is the shape of utopia? How should we understand the relationship between thought and practice, hope and disappointment, idealism and realism? Projects presented range from early industrial colonies, socialist utopias, Christian communities, and anarchist utopias to settlement housing, shopping malls, and factories. The projects will be discussed in conjunction with major texts by Sir Thomas More, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Karl Marx, Robert Owen, Louis Marin, to name a few. Apart from regular writing assignments, students will engage with creative designs, building toward a final exhibition of design projects for future utopias. The course will include a field trip to Shaker's Village.  Class size: 22



IDEA 210


Aniruddha Mitra

Peter Rosenblum

 T  Th 1:30 pm-4:30 pm

RKC 102





Cross-listed: Economics; Human Rights; Related interest:  Environmental & Urban Studies

8 credits   The United States is the product of waves of migration and the current host to multiple categories of migrants: refugees, wealthy investors, skilled and unskilled workers, who may be documented or undocumented What is a strength for some is a source of panic and politics for others. Migrants are the source of political controversy, mobilizing populist backlash and feeding xenophobic panics even while playing a major role in the economy. While anti-immigrant fervor is currently associated with the "right", foreign workers have also been blamed for undermining wages in the some sectors and depressing the conditions for increasing wages in others.  This 'big ideas' course combines (i) economic analysis of the motivation for and impact of migration with (ii) analysis of the social and political ramifications.  We will engage the anti-immigrant arguments coming from all sides as well as the arguments of immigrant solidarity and support organizations. Classes and readings will explore the economics, politics and human rights issues in migration, focusing on the United States since 1990 but situating them in international trends. While dealing primarily with "economic" migrants, the class will interrogate the conventional categories of voluntary vs. involuntary migrant, political refugee and victims of natural disasters. The class will explore case studies of workers and migration in the region, involving visitors and outings to link up with employers, public school educators, rights advocates, immigrant workers and (potentially) anti-immigrant organizations in order to build a practical, physical and immediate link between the issues that we are analyzing and the community. Class size: 22



IDEA 225

 1989: Art, LitERATURE & Politics in Transition

Alex Kitnick

Thomas Wild

M  W  1:30 pm-4:30 pm

OLIN 201

AA /




Cross-listed: Art History; Experimental Humanities; German Studies

8 credits   According to the political scientist Francis Fukuyama 1989 marked the "end of history." The so-called triumph of Western-style capitalism and liberal democracy, frequently represented by the fall of the Berlin Wall, meant that there would be no more struggle and no more contestation: a single ideology would now dominate the world. But is this true? Today we find ourselves in a world in urgent need of re-imagining the ways we wish to live together. The radical shift in the political order marked by 1989 had both temporal and spatial effects: in addition to a new sense of "contemporaneity," the fall of borders called forth an imagination of a globalized "whole earth." It was in the context of this new world order that visual artists, writers, and theorists began to offer alternative narratives to this global shake-up. Focusing on questions of history, identity, memory, and site, for these cultural figures 1989 marked less the "end of history" than the emergence of new stories. Does the current historical moment of 2017 with its re-emergence of aggressive nationalism, authoritarian government, and threat to plurality confront us with another turning point to possibly bookend the momentum of opening, diversity, and new beginnings after 1989? This course will seek to map the connections between post-1989 practices and their wider historical moment up to the present. We will discuss, among others, artworks by Hans Haacke, Hito Steyerl, and Ilya Kabakov, poetry and prose by Ingo Schulze, Terezia Mora, and Nobel Prize winner Herta Müller as well as theoretical writings by Bruno Latour, Jean-Luc Nancy, William Kentridge, and édouard Glissant. The class will scrutinize pivotal films created in response to 1989, and we will visit with contemporary artists and filmmakers. In concert with our weekly class conversations, this course will foster various formats of presentations and collaborative work, combining analytical and creative modes of engaging with the diverse materials.  Class size: 22