Social Studies Seminars

Seminar Descriptions

List of 10 items.

  • Behind Closed Doors: Alternate Narratives of Gender and Sexuality in American History and Literature

    Spring Term

    Once upon a time in 19th-century New York, brothels advertised both ladies and "lady-boys"-- and a man wasn't considered any less manly if he went for both. Once upon a time in 1920s Harlem, drag balls were all the rage-- and gay and straight, black and white, men and women paid exorbitant fees just to ogle the gorgeous queens. Once upon a time in the "Wild West," women donned men's clothing, slung holsters and ammo around their hips, and got reputations for outdrinking and outshooting any man...while men complemented their mustaches with lipstick and wore cowboy boots under petticoats. But why don't our history books tell us these stories? Why do we seem to think the 20th century invented homosexuality, queerness, and transsexuality? Why do we persist in thinking the Victorians were prudish, conservative, and even "asexual"? And how do we uncover these secret histories? Where do we even begin looking?

    Using both historical case studies and a variety of literary pieces, from poetry to short stories to documentaries, this class will uncover the alternate narratives of these "other Americans"--those who lived their lives "behind closed doors," and who, consciously or not, bequeathed a great legacy to 20th century American history and literature, as well as to 21st century current events.

    Instructor - Dr. Ali McLaferty
  • Biomedical Ethics

    Fall Term

    We are living in a period of tremendous scientific and cultural change, and nowhere is that more evident than in the biomedical ethical issues that appear almost daily in the news. These biomedical ethics issues exist at the intersection of several important subjects: philosophy and medicine, private decision making and public policy, economics and scientific advancement, the individual and the society, popular culture and science. The questions raised in the study of biomedical ethics are important to individuals both as health care decision makers and as citizens involved in the debate and formation of public policy. Through the study of contemporary medical ethical issues, we will examine and question our own beliefs while understanding many of the thorniest personal and policy decisions of our time.   

    This course addresses such topics as genetic engineering, health care financing, allocation of scarce medical resources, death and dying, human experimentation, patient autonomy, stem cell research, and abortion. Class time is spent discussing difficult decisions and real cases, as well as developing formal analytical and presentation skills through research projects, periodic debates and weekly written case analyses.

    Instructor: Mr. John Rocklin 
  • Dealing with Difficult People (Including Ourselves)

    Spring Term

    When you sense an impending argument, what is your first response?  Anger or fear?  Confront or avoid?  Learn how an individual’s background - traditions, culture, emotions, psychology - influences conflict, both in creating it and in its resolution.  See how some of these elements can also play into much larger conflicts and negotiations, from the local to the international.  What factors carry the most weight? How do parties in a negotiation keep or lose power?  Drawing on elements including history, psychology, diplomacy and conflict resolution, students will learn both theory and practice and will have the opportunity to focus on projects of their own choosing, from the geopolitical (think Middle East or Russia) to the business world (think IBM vs. Fujitsu or Apple vs. the government) to domestic or local matters.

    Instructor - Mrs. Claire Simmonds
  • Economics

    Winter Term

    How do entrepreneurs price their latest products? How does scarcity of resources force economic systems to make choices? Macroeconomics uses the tools of economics to understand how an economy functions and to develop policies that promote economic growth. This course will give students the tools to understand how a national economy works, and how various government policies affect the economy and, by extension, its citizens' lives. The course will combine economic theory and historical empirical data that relates to the three main concerns of macroeconomics: inflation, unemployment, and economic growth.

    Instructor - Mr. John McCain
  • Forging Our Sustainable Future

    Winter Term

    The sustainability seminar will seek to cut through the noise surrounding the topic of climate change. The course is broadly divided into two components: information and action. The first part of the course will examine the history, science and risks surrounding climate change and sustainability movements. The second part will engage students to take personal and communal action, and to determine the efficacy of sustainable actions and policies on a local, national and global level.

    Instructor - Mr. Scott Willson
  • Modern China Seminar

    Fall Term

    If the 20th century is referred to as the American Century, how will historians refer to the 21st? Napoleon Bonaparte once said, “China is a sleeping giant. Let her sleep, for when she wakes, she will move the world.”  Does China’s stirring on the world stage - economically, politically, culturally, and militarily - constitute a threat to the Western hegemon or does it represent an opportunity for new alliances and prosperity? This seminar will focus on China’s startling growth since the reforms of Deng Xiaoping, and in particular on the past three decades of rapid transformation within China and how these internal changes have impacted the rest of the world. Topics will include socialism & post-socialism, economics, current events, the Beijing 2008 Olympics, militarization, transnational workers, Africa, urbanization, cultural shifts, gender relations, Yao Ming, income inequality, social media, faith, and tourism. The course materials will be drawn from current articles, books, documentaries, movie clips, social media and comic books.

    Instructor - Mr. Scott Willson
  • Psychology

    Spring Term

    Why do we do what we do? What influences affect our decision making? What role do our emotions play in learning? How do we choose a romantic partner? These and other questions will be explored in this introduction to the theories and concepts of psychology. The course begins with important research done in the field of social psychology, which is a study of the influence that people have on one another. From this perspective we will discuss issues such as: racism, conformity, human aggression, and the psychology of love and attraction. We will then examine the areas of motivation, emotion, intelligence, learning, memory, and personality development. Finally, we will discuss the 21st century trend of Positive Psychology, which is based on the premise that psychology should focus less on mental illness and more on mental wellness.

    Instructor - Ms. Laurel Eskridge
  • Seminar on the Contemporary Middle East

    Winter Term

    The “Middle East,” seems to be the name of a region “in crisis”, a region full of news. For Americans, the news usually seems to be bad news or threatening news. This seminar will inquire into this “Middle East.” Where exactly is it? (Yes, that is a serious question.) Why is it in the news so much? What is going on there? What are the problems? the threats? Why does the Middle East matter? How does the US figure into the picture?

    The seminar will address political, social, cultural, and religious topics. The focus will be on three cultural parts of the “Middle East”: Iran/Iraq, the situation and story of Israel and Palestine, and Turkey/Syria. While we will look back at some of the history of the region, this is not a history course nor does it cover the same ground as the junior-year history course. Instead, we will use films, documents, internet media, and readings to take a virtual tour of parts of the Middle East.

    Instructor: Dr. Christopher Colvin
  • Topics in Constitutional Law

    Fall Term

    Is a student-led prayer before a public school football game a violation of separation of church and state? Are large corporate donations to political campaigns protected as free speech? Whose right to bear arms did the Second Amendment protect? When can a police officer search your car? While the term constitutional law encompasses a broad range of issues about government and the separation of powers, this course will focus primarily on the U.S. Constitution and individual rights with some additional topics driven by current events. The course will include reading of landmark Supreme Court cases as well as current cases. This is a discussion-based course that rewards lively debate and that culminates in a moot court.

    Instructor - Dr. Shelley Sallee
  • Who Owns the Past? Archaeology, Authenticity, and Cultural Heritage

    Fall Term

    The past 17 years have seen monuments destroyed and museums looted across the Near East, with priceless objects put up for sale on the black market. In the same time frame, courts across the world have ordered museums to send back their most famous pieces to the countries from which they were first taken. How do we decide who owns the past? How should Western nations atone for their colonial history, when they stole art and artifacts for museums back home? How can we even know what “the past” looked like, and how we should teach people about it?

    This discussion-oriented seminar will address these questions and unpack the ethical dilemmas surrounding cultural property and the West’s obsession with the authentic past. We will use case studies to look at those dilemmas head-on, debating topics like: should the Elgin Marbles be returned to Greece? Is it right for agenda-driven government agencies to dictate which era of a historical site is shown to tourists? Is the destruction of monuments a crime against humanity?

    Instructor - Dr. Evan Rap
Address: 6500 St. Stephen's Dr., Austin, TX 78746
Phone: (512) 327-1213