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Fall 2019 BFS Seminars

BFS students in Nursing should consult Dr. Georgia Kouzoukas,, to determine whether a BFS course fulfills a Nursing requirement.

BFS students in Engineering should consult with their Engineering Advisor to determine whether a BFS course fulfills an Engineering requirement.

College and Wharton sector information can be found in the Fall 2019 BFS Seminars course chart:

BFS Seminars offered each semester may also be found on Penn InTouch by using the "Course Search" feature, selecting "Show more search criteria," and selecting "Ben Franklin Seminars" under "Program."

Africana Studies

AFRC 325-401
BFS Sector III

In this seminar, students will read groundbreaking playwright August Wilson’s 20th Century Cycle: ten plays that form an iconic picture of African American traumas, triumphs, and traditions through the decades, told through the lens of Pittsburgh’s Hill District neighborhood. Other readings include supporting material on Wilson’s work and African American theatre, the works of contemporary playwrights whom Wilson has influenced (such as Suzan-Lori Parks and Tarell Alvin McCraney), and context on Penn’s relationship with West Philadelphia.   

As an Academically Based Community Service (ABCS) course, August Wilson & Beyond gives students the opportunity to enhance their understanding of the plays, and history and culture that shaped them, by forming meaningful relationships with members of the West Philadelphia Cultural Alliance community. Wilson’s plays provide the bridge that connects students and community members as they discuss and attend plays together, and share stories through oral history interviews. As residents give voice to their experiences, students gain a deeply personal understanding of how history and culture shape communities. The course culminates with students writing an original theatre piece inspired by the readings and relationships, which they will share with those who inspired it at an end-of-semester performance.

Benjamin Franklin Seminars

BFS Sector I

This course that brings together the recent literature from the social sciences and health sciences as well as other disciplines to explore how philanthropy impacts health care in society at large, and in particular, the health of the donor and volunteer. Furthermore, the course will include an “ideas in action” component. Students will examine philanthropic donations at work in Philadelphia, as well as engage in philanthropic activities alongside the instructor. The course consists of three parts: 

Part 1) Philanthropy and Healthcare in Society: The US has a long tradition of channeling philanthropic resources to augment healthcare in society, as the demand for health care exceeds the capacity of individuals or government to fully satisfy the demand. Philanthropic resources, which include both time and money, are emerging as significant means by which the capacity of the healthcare sector is fortified; these include resources for service providers, health care researchers, and health care policy advocates. To understand the heterogeneous impact of philanthropy on healthcare, this part of the course will examine the “who, what, when, where, and how” of philanthropic inputs into healthcare and their impact.

Part 2) Health Effects on the Individual Philanthropist: The second part of the course examines individuals who give of their time and money.  From decreased mortality to better health outcomes, researchers have carefully documented the effects on individual givers. Recent findings from the health sciences also show what mechanisms might be involved in an individual’s psychology and physiology that can explain the beneficial health effects of philanthropic behavior.  We will examine recent experimental research along these lines provides further evidence along these lines.

Part 3) Ideas in Action: The course will include three specific volunteering events and do so by selecting a healthcare related organization of their choice that uses philanthropic resources.  Students will gain first-hand experience as volunteers (and if feasible, as donors) and discuss their experiences with philanthropy in class presentations and relate them to the course content.

Comparative Literature


This course traces how particular literary texts, very often medieval, are adopted to become foundational for national literatures. Key moments of emphasis will be the early nineteenth century, the 1930s, and (to some extent) the unfolding present. 

The course will not be devoted exclusively to western Europe. Delicate issues arise as nations determine what their national epic needs to be. Russia, for example, needs the text known as The Song of Igor to be genuine, since it is the only Russian epic to predate the Mongol invasion. The text was discovered in 1797 and then promptly lost in Moscow's great fire of 1812; suggestions that it might have been a fake have to be handled with care in Putin's Russia. Similarly, discussing putative Mughal (Islamic) elements in so-called "Hindu epics" can also be a delicate matter. Some "uses of the medieval" have been exercised for reactionary and revisionist causes in the USA, but such use is much more extravagant east of Prague. And what, exactly, is the national epic of the USA? 

Computer and Information Science

CIS 106-401
Formal Reasoning & Analysis

This highly interdisciplinary course approaches fundamental issues in Anthropology and Computer Science. Using an anthropological perspective, this course focuses on the history, theory, and methods of how archaeology and visualizations of the past are created, presented and used in scholarly media (e.g., traditional publications, conference papers, and project databases), an popular culture (e.g., artist's reconstructions, movies, TV documentaries, museum exhibits, games, the internet, and art), and contemporary computer techniques (e.g., 3D modeling, animation, virtual reality, and simulation).

From the computer science perspective, the challenge becomes how we (can best) transform known and often incomplete information into engaging digital models and plausible visualizations of a past culture and its people. Students learn modern 3D modeling using Autodesk Maya, animation using the UnReal game engine, and whole body motion capture.

The course assignments include writing essays critiquing popular media depictions of the past, in-class oral presentations with visual aids, 3D model development, and a final project that utilizes contemporary computational tools to explain, visualize, and animate culturally relevant situations, questions, knowledge, or hypotheses.

Presentations by the instructors include relevant anthropological background materials and tutorials on the computational tools to be used, and the thought processes needed to connect the two. The course material itself is broad and requires additional conceptual integration by the student. To facilitate this process, the instructors use the SEAS Open Learning Classroom, the ViDi Center for hands-on modeling, animation, and motion capture exercises, and the Penn Museum collections for Object-Based Learning.

CIS 105-002
Formal Reasoning and Analysis

The primary goal of this course is to introduce computational methods of interacting with data. In this course, students will be introduced to the Jupyter notebook programming environment. They will learn how to gather data, store it in appropriate data structures and then either write their own functions or use libraries to analyze and then display the salient information. Data will be drawn from a variety of domains, including but not limited to travel, entertainment, politics, economics, biology etc. The course has an open project where students use the techniques learned in the course to explore publicly available data of their choice.

East Asian Languages and Culture

EALC 301-301

This seminar has four purposes: to understand and interpret the profound impact of Mongolian rule on Chinese art; to become familiar with the secondary literature on Chinese art and civilization at the time of Mongolian rule; to learn the basic research tools for the study of Chinese art and archaeology; to produce a major research paper.  One of the important purposes of the seminar is the completion and presentation this paper.  There also will be short oral reports almost every week.  In addition, there will be a book review of approximately 5-7 pages.  Undergraduates will be responsible for keeping a summary of weekly class presentations and discussions to be turned in the last week of the semester April.


ENGL 345-301

This course will start with careful reading of Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels (4 vols., 1726). Then we shall follow the text on its journey from the 1720s to modern times, studying some of the many adaptations, imitations, abridgments, illustrations, translations, continuations, parodies, keys, critiques that Gulliver’s Travels has spawned over nearly three-hundred years. 

Our purpose is not only to learn about Gulliver's Travels, but also to use  Swift's novel as a source-text for understanding how works of art develop lives of their own. Our grounding proposition is that texts are not fixed objects, but change in time and space, and are continually remade by audiences.  Close attention to Gulliver's Travels will allow us to ask far-reaching questions about modes and politics of dissemination, audiences, histories of reading and publishing, the changing status and functions of prose fiction,  developments in several genres (including children's literature, science fiction, and political satire), relationships between illustration and textual interpretation, the possibilities and limitations inherent in different media, and more. 

This seminar-style course will be team-taught by Lynne Farrington (Senior Curator at the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books, and Manuscripts) and Toni Bowers (Professor of English). Meetings will take place in the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books, and Manuscripts, where our work will engage with Penn's Teerink and Denison collections of editions of Gulliver's Travels.  Enrollment is limited for reasons of space; undergraduates in their junior and senior years will be admitted first.   

Requirements include substantial reading, occasional viewing of films/videos, in-class presentations, library exploration assignments, and a final essay.  

ENGL 392-402

We will be engaging with an array of film and media texts and objects to understand the mutual entanglements of media and environment. Media Infrastructures like fiber optic cables are part of the environment and elements mined from the environment find themselves in digital media devices. In this course, we ask:  In what ways does the environment shape media? How can we connect the aesthetics and politics of ecocinema? How are theories of viral media and microbial contagion related? How do vulnerable communities document their struggles against resource extractivism? The course is organized in three sections. In the first part, we will be engaging with mediated representations and visualizations of the environment including depictions of ecological disasters and GIS modeling of climate change. The second section shall deal with the environmental impact of media infrastructures such as the energy dynamics of data servers/cloud computing. Towards the end of the course, we examine ways of conceptualizing media as environment with a particular focus on media geology and media ecology as research methods to study media phenomena.

ENGL 326-301
BFS Sector III

Although Shakespeare's plays are usually studied as high canonical literature, they were originally written as playscripts designed for the entertainment of a disorderly, socially heterogeneous crowd and the financial profit of the players. This course will attempt to resituate the plays in their original theatrical setting. We will study a representative selection of Shakespeare's comedies, tragedies, and histories (to be chosen by the class at the first meeting) along with background material on Shakespeare's theater and his culture.

There will be one or two hour-exams, one or two short papers, and a final exam. In addition, students are expected to meet in study groups outside of class and to make thoughtful, well-informed contributions to the class listserv and discussions.

Environmental Studies

ENVS 404-301
BFS Sector VII

Lead poisoning can cause learning disabilities, impaired hearing, behavioral problems, and at very high levels, seizures, coma and even death. Children up to the age of six are especially at risk because of their developing systems; they often ingest lead based paint chips, and inhale dust while playing in their home and yards. In ENVS 404, Penn undergraduates learn about the epidemiology of lead poisoning, the pathways of exposure, and methods for community outreach and education.
Penn students collaborate with middle school and high school teachers in West Philadelphia to engage students in exercises that apply environmental research relating to lead poisoning to their homes and neighborhoods. Through special funding received from the School of Arts & Sciences and the Fels Institute of Government, the students now also explore the impact of lead service lines bringing drinking water to residential properties in West Philadelphia. This concern arose form the lead poisoning of many children in Flint, Michigan during 2014-15.

Fine Arts

BFS Sector IV

The goal of the course is to explore the interconnection between conceptual thinking and material form—how can visual representation inform and structure your thoughts. Students will choose their topics, and then both write and make a book, though not necessarily in that order.

By devising and self-directing a long-term personal project, the students will gain an insight into the concept of authorship. They will become aware of the challenges posed by the open-ended nature of any creative process and learn how to address these challenges. They will learn how to give—and seek—meaningful input, and how to navigate the line between one’s intuition and the advice of peers.

By the end of the course, each student will have produced an original book.


HIST 216-301

Underneath the grandeur of empires, war, revolutions, history eventually is about people’s life. This seminar explores how the boundaries of private life in China intersect with the public arena and how such an intersection has significantly re-shaped Chinese private life between the 16th century and the present. The first half of the seminar will explore how the private realm in late imperial China was defined and construed by Confucian discourses, architectural design, moral regulation, cultural consumption, and social network.

Moving into the twentieth century, the remaining part of the seminar will examine how the advent of novel concepts such as modernity and revolution restructured the private realm, particularly in regard to the subtopics outlined above. Organizing questions include: How did female chastity become the center of a public cult which then changed the life paths of countless families? How did the practice of female foot-binding intersect with marriage choices, household economy, and social status? How did print culture create a new space for gentry women to negotiate the boundaries between their inner quarters and the outside world? What was the ideal and reality of married life in late imperial China? How did people’s life change when the collective pursuit for Chinese modernity placed romantic love, freedom to marry and divorce at the center of public debates? How was “Shanghai modern” related to the emerging middle class life style as evidenced in advertisement posters? How has the ideal of gender equality been re-interpreted and realized under the 

HIST 216-401
BFS Sector II

This course is designed to introduce students to the religious experiences of Africans and to the politics of culture. We will examine how traditional African religious ideas and practices interacted with Christianity and Islam. We will look specifically at religious expressions among the Yoruba, Southern African independent churches and millenarist movements, and the variety of Muslim organizations that developed during the colonial era.

The purpose of this course is threefold. First, to develop in students an awareness of the wide range of meanings of conversion and people's motives in creating and adhering to religious institutions; Second, to examine the political, cultural, and psychological dimensions in the expansion of religious social movements; And third, to investigate the role of religion as counterculture and instrument of resistance to European hegemony.

Topics include: Mau Mau and Maji Maji movements in Kenya and Tanzania, Chimurenga in Mozambique, Watchtower churches in Southern Africa, anti-colonial Jihads in Sudan and Somalia and mystical Muslim orders in Senegal.

Legal Studies and Business Ethics

LGST 101-301

This course presents law as an evolving social institution, with special emphasis on the legal regulation of business in the context of social values.  It considers basic concepts of law and legal process, in the U.S. and other legal systems, and introduces the fundamentals of rigorous legal analysis. An in-depth examination of contract law is included.

LGST 100-301

This course introduces students to important legal and ethical challenges they may face in business. Its focus includes theories of ethics and their application to case studies in business, including current business ethics events. We begin with questions about individual value, purpose, and responsibility. We then look at concrete questions about the obligations of corporations, managers and employees. Do corporations have any obligations besides making money for their shareholders? If a multinational operates in a country where child labor is the norm, does that make it acceptable for the company to hire children?
The material covered is intended to help prepare students to recognize and manage ethical issues as they arise. Class sessions will consist of collaborative case discussions, exercises, debates, and discussions of theoretical frameworks for interpreting ethics. An emphasis will be placed on class discussion.


Near Eastern Languages & Culture

NELC 325-401

This course explores the role of cultural heritage and archaeological discoveries in the politics of the Middle East from the nineteenth century to the recent aftermath of the Arab Spring. We will explore how modern Middle East populations relate to their pasts and how archaeology and cultural heritage have been employed to support particular political and social agendas, including colonialism, nationalism, imperialism, and the construction of ethnic-religious identities. Although it was first introduced to the Middle East as a colonial enterprise by European powers, archaeology became a pivotal tool for local populations of the Middle East to construct new histories and identities during the post-World War I period of intensive nation-building after the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire. To understand this process, we will first look at the nineteenth-century establishment of archaeology by institutions like the Penn Museum. Then we will move on to individual case studies in Turkey, Iraq, Egypt, Israel/Palestine, Iran, and Soviet Transcaucasia to look at the role of archaeology and cultural heritage in the formation of these countries as modern nation-states with a shared identity among citizens. We will conclude with an examination of the recent impact of the Islamic State on material heritage in Syria and Iraq, the changing attitudes of Middle Eastern countries toward foreign museums, and the role of UNESCO in defining Middle Eastern sites of world heritage. The course will also include field trips to the Penn Museum.


PHIL 260-301

In this course, we will study philosophies or thought systems from around the world. Placing these philosophies within historical, cultural and political contexts, we will study the theoretical bases (including questions regarding the nature of reality, human nature, claims about knowledge and memory) of practical engagement with the world (including concerns with individual human interactions, social-political structures, educational theory, the nature of history, the nature of the arts and the like). Philosophies or thought systems we will study will come from across Africa, across Asia, and from native peoples of the Americas, the South Pacific, New Zealand and Australia.


BFS Sector VI and QDA

This course parallels and extends the content of PHYS 150, at a significantly higher mathematical level. Recommended for well-prepared students in engineering and the physical sciences, and particularly for those planning to major in physics. Classical laws of motion: interaction between particles; conservation laws and symmetry principles; rigid body motion; non-inertial reference frames; oscillations.

Credit is awarded for only one of the following courses: PHYS 008 PHYS 101, 150, or PHYS 170.

Students with AP or Transfer Credit for PHYS 91 or PHYS 93 who complete PHYS 170 will thereby surrender the AP or Transfer Credit.

Prerequisites: MATH 104 or permission of instructor
Corequisites: MATH 114 or MATH 116, PHYS 170 lab

Political Science

PSCI 395-301
BFS Sector I

This course examines conceptual, explanatory and normative debates over power-sharing systems. We explore the circumstances in which federal, consociational and other power-sharing institutions and practices are proposed and implemented to regulate deep national, ethnic, religious or linguistic divisions.

We evaluate these systems, seeking to explain why they are formed or attempted, and why they may endure or fail, paying special attention to bi- and multi-national, multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-lingual environments. Teaching methods include lectures, team-debates, and team-organized reading. 

Religious Studies

RELS 130-401
BFS Sector III

While the Bible may be the most read text in the world, it is not clear that anyone understands what it actually means.  Secular scholars read the Bible as they would any other ancient document, trying to understand who wrote it and what it reveals about the past, but that is not how the Bible is understood by hundreds of millions of readers who embrace it as a message from God and read its contents not just to learn about the past but to understand what the meaning of life is, how to be a good person, and where the world is headed. How is it that the Bible is read in such different ways by the secular and the religious?  Who is right in the struggle over its meaning, and how does one go about deciphering that meaning in the first place?

Romance Languages

BFS Sector II and C1

Books have many powers.  All too rarely, however, do they shape public opinion and change history.

The greatest works of the French Enlightenment are perhaps the most striking exception ever to this rule.  Our seminar will attempt to understand what the Enlightenment was and how it made its impact.  We will read above all the works of the individuals who, more than anyone else, defined the age of Enlightenment: Voltaire, Montesquieu, Diderot, and Rousseau.  We will see, for example, how Voltaire used his works to teach Europeans to believe in such concepts as the fraternity of man and above all the necessity of religious tolerance.  We will explore the construction of perhaps the most characteristic of all Enlightenment masterpieces, the Encyclopédie edited by Diderot and d’Alembert.  And we will end by reading Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography, to consider the ways in which the Enlightenment was present for major figures in this country’s early history.

We will pay particular attention to the risks each of these authors ran in making such controversial works public: they were constantly threatened by censorship from both church and state; Voltaire was exiled, Diderot imprisoned.  The seminar will meet on the 6th floor of Van Pelt Library so that we can have access during our meetings to the original editions of many Enlightenment classics.  We will thus be able to discuss both ways in which these works were shaped by the fear of censorship and techniques devised by their authors to elude censorship.

We will also consider topics such as what the Enlightenment meant for women and the Enlightenment’s global influence in the 18th century, particularly on the founding fathers of this country.
The seminar will be taught in English.  Students who wish to receive French credit will do the reading and the writing in French.

Russian and East European Studies

RUSS 250-401

Andrei Tarkovsky is universally acknowledged to be the greatest Soviet filmmaker of the last half of the twentieth century. In Kurosawas assessment following Tarkovskys death in the late 1980s, he had no equal among film directors alive now. In Ingmar Bergmans words, Tarkovskys work was a miracle. His films are beautiful, intellectually challenging, and spiritually profound. They range from Ivans Childhood, an exploration of wartime experience through the eyes of a child; to Solaris, a philosophical essay in the form of a science-fiction thriller; to Andrei Rublev, an investigation of the power of art and spirituality. In this course, we will study Tarkovskys films and life, with attention both to his formal and artistic accomplishments, his thought and writings concerning art and film, and the cultural and political contexts of his work.

Urban Studies

URBS 178-401
Cultural Diversity in the US

One of the seminar’s aims is to help students develop their capacity to solve strategic, real world problems by working collaboratively in the classroom and in the West Philadelphia community. As members of research teams, students identify how Penn can help to contribute to solving universal problems (e.g., poverty, poor schooling, inadequate health care, etc.) as they are manifested in the university’s local geographic community of West Philadelphia.          

Another goal of the seminar is to help students develop proposals as to how a Penn undergraduate education might better empower students to produce, not simply “consume,” societally-useful knowledge, as well as function as lifelong, active, contributing democratic citizens of a democratic society.

Additionally, seminar students are expected to work approximately 1.5 hours/week at one of the Netter Center’s partner high schools (Paul Robeson High School).   They will be matched with juniors or seniors at the high school and work one-on-one on issues of college access, including the college application process.


WH 150-301; 302

WH 150 provides an introduction to all stages of the research process for business topics. In the first third of the course, we discuss theory building, hypothesis development, and research design choices particularly in casual research. In the second third, we discuss data collection methods (e.g., surveys, experiments, case studies and fieldwork) and the use of archival databases. This part of the course emphasizes the interplay between research design and sampling/data collection methods. In the final third of the course, we introduce data analysis and interpretation, including methods for converting raw data into measurable constructs suited to statistical analysis.