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First-Year Seminar (101-6-25)


Intro to Chicago: Place, Space, & Culture in a Mid


Philip Martin Ellefson

Meeting Info

University Hall 418: Tues, Thurs 12:30PM - 1:50PM

Overview of class

A short ride on the Purple Line Express will introduce first-year students at Northwestern to the center of a world-class city with a rich history and deep, multi-faceted culture. A walk through downtown demonstrates how Chicago is an ideal site for investigating the ways we imagine and produce space on multiple scales; on a global scale, the city has been a center for innovations in modern architecture; it historically served as a railroad hub and point of connection for the nation; regionally, it has been the cultural center of the Midwest, giving rise to interdisciplinary movements like the Chicago Black Renaissance; and since the early twentieth century, it has been one of the starkest examples of both the devastating effects of urban racial segregation and the ways racialized communities resist this dispossession. In this course, students will encounter literary texts, films, music, and other media made in and about Chicago that reflect and mediate place and space in the city. The guiding questions of this class include: How have Chicago's natural and built environments shaped the novels, films, and music created in the city? How have these works of cultural production, in turn, impacted the way people inhabit and imagine space in Chicago? What can these texts tell us about the way people experience race, gender, and class in the places in which they live, commute, work, and play? This course aims to give students both a deep education in the culture of the metropolitan area they now live in and the analytical skills to investigate the entanglement of space, culture, and politics.

Teaching Method

This course is predominantly discussion-based, focusing on discussions of primary and some secondary texts. It will also include short lessons on specific writing and analytical skills.

Evaluation Method

Your grade in this course will be calculated between engagement and participation (30 percent) and writing assignments (70 percent). Your engagement and participation grade will be based on your involvement in class discussion, group work, and Canvas discussions, though I am open to talking about alternative ways to find a mode of participation that works for you. Your grade for writing assignments will be split between three writing assignments. The two shorter papers will each be worth 20 percent of your grade, and the longer final paper will be worth 30 percent.

NUMBER OF WRITING ASSIGNMENTS AND THEIR LENGTHS You will write three papers for this course: an analytical reflection of 3-4 pages, a close reading paper of 5-6 pages, and a research paper of 7-8 pages.

Class Materials (Required)

Texts for this course may include novels like Gwendolyn Brooks's Maud Martha, Nelson Algren's The Man with the Golden Arm, and Sandra Cisneros's The House on Mango Street; uniquely Chicago films like Candyman (both the 1992 and 2021 versions) and Ferris Bueller's Day Off, and musical genres and scenes, from psychedelic jazz and Chicago house to Midwest emo and drill.

Class Notes

BRIEF BIOGRAPHY OR PERSONAL STATEMENT Philip Ellefson is a Ph.D. candidate in the English Department. He researches nineteenth- and twentieth-century American fiction written in and about cities with a focus on the relationship between novels, multi-family housing, and architecture.

Class Attributes

WCAS First-Year Seminar

Enrollment Requirements

Enrollment Requirements: Reserved for First Year & Sophomore only