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Fall 2018 BFS Seminars

This course chart lists the curricular requirements BFS courses fulfill for students in the College and students in Wharton:  

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.

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.


ANTH 337-301
BFS Sector I

This course will introduce students to applied anthropology methods for doing research that can change policy and practices. Examples of policy and practice change include clinical practices in health care settings, social welfare policy, and legal advocacy. Students will be trained in multiple anthropology research methods, including brief participant-observation, qualitative interviewing, life story interviewing, and ethnographic content analysis of textual material.

Students will also learn how to use NVivo software for analyzing qualitative and some quantitative data from their field notes, interviews, and analysis of popular articles/websites. Finally, students will practice writing products for non-academic audiences, such as policymakers, the media, and the general public.

The course will emphasize using anthropology research methods to address real-world problems in policy and practice. Students will each complete their own research project and presentation, on a topic of their own choosing, with support from course faculty. The course will be taught by an anthropologist-physician with experience applying qualitative research methods to address health and policy issues.


Classical Studies

CLST 344-401
BFS Sector VII

This course will examine two approaches to the still unanswered question of what happens when we humans come up with new knowledge. How should we describe the impulse, or set of impulses, that leads us to seek it? What is happening when we achieve it? And how do we describe the new state in which we find ourselves after we have it? We will study the work of contemporary physicists and cognitive scientists on these questions alongside the approaches developed by the two most powerful thinkers from antiquity on the topic, Plato and Aristotle.


Computer and Information Science

CIS 106-401
Formal Reasoning & Analysis

A highly interdisciplinary course that 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.



An introduction to game theory and its applications to Economic analysis.  The course will provide a theoretical overview of modern game theory, emphasizing common themes in the analysis of strategic behavior in different social science contexts. The economic applications will be drawn from different areas including auctions, matching and public policy.                                                                                                                                            
Prerequisites: ECON 101, MATH 104 and either 114 or 115.




ENGL 392-402
BFS Sector III

The continual exchanges between literature and film throughout the twentieth century—from the Silent Shakespeares of the 1900s to the 2012 Anna Karenina--have made it virtually impossible to study one without the other. Since 1895 the relationship between the two practices has evolved and changed dramatically, always as a measure of larger cultural, industrial, and aesthetic concerns.

Well beyond questions of textual fidelity, today the debates about the interactions of film and literature have opened and enriched specific textual case studies of adaptation but also pointed to larger concerns and debates which resonate more broadly across both literary studies and film studies: for instance about the cultural and textual terms of authorship, about the economic and political pressures permeating any adaptation, about the literature’s appropriation of cinematic and other media structures. 

Indeed, today adaptation studies now move well beyond just literature and film, involving video games, YouTube mash ups, and numerous other textual and cultural activities that invigorate and complicate the importance of theories, practices, and histories of adaptation into the 21st century.


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.

ENGL 392-401
BFS Sector III

This seminar has a bold aim: it seeks to understand better what has happened in our world since the era of decolonization, by considering the term “politics” in its very broadest and most dramatic connotations, as the dream of social change (and its failure). Another way of describing its subject matter is to say that it is about revolution and counterrevolution since the Bandung Conference.

Together we will investigate the way in which major historical events, including the struggle for Algerian independence, the military coup in Indonesia, the Cuban Revolution, the assassination of Patrice Lumumba in Congo, the Vietnam War, Latin American dictatorships, the Israeli Palestinian conflict, the fall of the Soviet Union, the end of apartheid in South Africa, 9/11, and the Iraq War and its aftermath, have been represented in some of the most innovative and moving films of our time. 

Attention will therefore be paid to a variety of genres, including cinema verité, documentary, the thriller, the biopic, animation, the global conspiracy film, hyperlink cinema, science fiction and dystopia. Films will include: The Battle of Algiers, The Year of Living Dangerously, Memories of Underdevelopment, Lumumba and Lumumba: La Mort d’un Prophète, The Fog of War, The Lives of Others, Y Tu Mama Tambien, Even the Rain, The Constant Gardener, Syriana, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Waltz with Bashir, Caché, Children of Men, The Possibility of Hope, and (possibly) How To Start a Revolution. An archive of secondary readings will be provided on Canvas.

Writing requirements:
a mid-term and a final paper of around 8-10 pages each.


Environmental Studies

ENVS 411-301
BFS Sector VII

This is an ABCS course designed to provide the student with an understanding of air pollution at the local, regional and global levels. The nature, composition, and properties of air pollutants in the atmosphere will also be studied. The course will focus on Philadelphia’s air quality and how air pollutants have an adverse effect on the health of the residents.

The recent designation by IARC of Air Pollution as a known carcinogen will be explored. How the community is exposed to air pollutants with consideration of vulnerable populations will be considered. Through a partnership with Philadelphia Air Management Service (AMS) agency the science of air monitoring and trends over time will be explored. Philadelphia’s current non-attainment status for PM2.5. and ozone will be studied. Philadelphia’s current initiatives to improve the air quality of the city will be discussed.

Students will learn to measure PM2.5 in outdoor and indoor settings and develop community-based outreach tools to effectively inform the community of Philadelphia regarding air pollution. The outreach tools developed by students may be presentations, written materials, Apps, websites or other strategies for enhancing environmental health literacy of the community.

A project based approach will be used to include student monitoring of area schools and school bus routes, and the community at large. The data collected will be presented to students in the partner school in West Philadelphia. Upon completion of this course, students should expect to have attained a broad understanding of and familiarity with the sources, fate, and the environmental impacts and health effects of air pollutants.

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 216-401
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.


HIST 212-301
BFS Sector II

World War One was the primordial catastrophe of twentieth-century history. For all who passed through it, the Great War was transformative, presenting a profound rupture in personal experience. It was a war that unleashed an unprecedented outpouring of memoirs and poetic and fictional accounts written by participants. In its wake, it also produced new forms of public commemoration and memorialization – tombs to the unknown soldier, great monuments, soldiers’ cemeteries, solemn days of remembrance, and the like. On the centenary of World War One’s outbreak, this course will explore the war through the intersection of these processes of personal and public memory.

The first ten weeks will be devoted to shared readings on these themes. In the remaining weeks, students will pursue independent research projects investigating the literature of the Great War or aspects of public or private commemoration. Please note: This is not a seminar in military or diplomatic history, but rather an exploration of personal experiences of the War, representations of experience, and the cultural and political dimensions of memory.


HIST 104-301
BFS Sector II

Why have some books had a profound impact on their times?  How have they articulated an issue, focused debate, captured public attention, and spurred action?  In this seminar, we will read a group of books that changed the modern United States.  The Jungle, Silent Spring, The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care, The Feminine Mystique, The Grapes of Wrath, Conscience of a Conservative: These are among the books that mobilized Americans to demand food safety and a safer environment, adopt new childrearing practices, redefine traditional gender roles, develop greater awareness of poverty, and rethink their politics. 

We will do close readings of these and other texts, and examine the history of each book as a book: its place within the author’s life and work, its publishing history, critical reception, and readers’ responses.  Finally, we will consider the broader historical contexts in which the work was written, to assess its impact on American culture, society, and politics.

HIST 216-402
BFS Sector II

Jews have always been an extraordinarily urban people. This seminar explores various aspects of the Jewish encounter with the city, examining the ways that Jewish culture has been shaped by and has helped to shape urban culture. We will examine European and American cities as well as some in Palestine/Israel, covering an expansive view of urban culture. We will consider Jewish involvement in political and cultural life, the various neighborhoods in which Jews have lived, relations with other ethnic groups, as well as many other topics.  We will read some classic works in the field along with contemporary scholarship. No prior background in Jewish history is required.

HIST 211-402
BFS Sector II

Among Judaism’s foundational ideas is the notion of a messiah, a messianic age, and a final denouement of history culminating in a perfect world of harmony and peace. The idea has served both to inspire Jews that despite hardships of their collective past, there was a bright future waiting for them on the horizon. At the same time the messianic idea was also unsettling and destabilizing, assuming a quick and unnatural disruption of their normative Jewish life in Israel and the diaspora. This dual or dialectic function of the messianic idea, as Gershom Scholem once described it,---to restore the previous existence and stability Jews once had but had lost or to establish instead something entirely new, a supernatural utopia unlike anything previously experienced, represents one of the principal foci of this course.

The seminar will discuss the history of Jewish messianic ideas and messianism from antiquity until the present through reading primary sources in translation, including how rabbis, philosophers, and kabbalists understood the idea. It will linger on the most important messianic figure of pre-modern times, Shabbetai Zevi, the seventeenth century messianic mystic and his movement. It will also consider the secularized versions of messianism in the modern era as reflected in Reform Judaism, Zionism and socialism; and it will consider the contemporary manifestations of messianic behavior in modern Israel and among diaspora Jewry.



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 explores business responsibility from rival theoretical and managerial perspectives. Its focus includes theories of ethics and their application to case studies in business. Topics include moral issues in advertising and sales; hiring and promotion; financial management; corporate pollution; product safety; and decision-making across borders and cultures.


BFS Sector I and CDUS

This multidisciplinary course surveys the history of American health care through the multiple perspectives of race, gender, and class, and grounds the discussions in contemporary health issues. It emphasizes the links between the past and present, using not only primary documents but materials from disciplines such as literature, art, sociology, and feminist studies that relate both closely and tangentially to the health professions and health care issues.

Discussions will surround gender, class-based, ethnic, and racial ideas about the construction of disease, health and illness; the development of health care institutions; the interplay between religion and science; the experiences of patients and providers; and the response to disasters and epidemics. Skills for document analysis and critique are built into the course as is the contextual foundation for understanding the history of health care.


Physics and Astronomy

PHYS 137-001
BFS Sector VII

This is an Academically Based Community Service Course (ABCS). It will be aligned to the Philadelphia Empowerment High School Core Instructional Program in Physical Science which follows the Pennsylvania Common Core standards for science. This curriculum is closely aligned with the National Common Core and roughly parallels the contents of first semester introductory physics (non-calculus) at Penn.

Penn students learn to master fundamental physics concepts that are often poorly understood even after a rigorous college course in introductory physics. In addition, Penn students learn about the challenges of science education in the urban school environment and study the trial-tested techniques found most effective at lowering the barriers to physical science education.


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. 



PSCI 261-401
BFS Sector VII

Technological change is always occurring, but the rate of change seems to be accelerating. Advances in robotics, artificial intelligence, cyber, biotechnology, and other arenas generate promise as well as peril for humanity. Will these emerging technologies unleash the innovative capacity of the world, generating new opportunities that help people live meaningful lives? Alternatively, are automation and other technologies chipping away at the labor market in a way that could create severe generational dislocation at best, and national and international turmoil at worst? These questions are important, and have consequences for how we live our lives, how nations interact, and the future of the world writ large. Emerging technologies could shape public policy at the local, national, and international level, and raise questions of fairness, ethics, and transparency. This course takes a unique approach, combining insights from engineering, political science, and law in an interdisciplinary way that will expose students both to the key technologies that could shape the future and ways to think about their potentia politics, and society.

Religious Studies

RELS 256-301

This is an experimental course that seeks to combine creative pedagogical methods and alternative scheduling to encourage intellectual reflection and emotional vulnerability through an in depth study of the way people cope with existential despair. Through a reading of memoirs, novels, poetry, and essays in an atmosphere conducive to close-reading and full-participation students will explore a wide-range of ways of coping with, describing, and comprehending moments of great despair. Lectures will explain the ritual, liturgical, homiletic, meditative, reflective, self-destructive, psycho-somatic, and ascetic ways despair is both conditioned and mitigated by different thinkers from various traditions over time. 


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.



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.


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.



WH 150-301; 302

Evidence is needed at various stages of the decision making process to understand problems/opportunities, and to assess potential programs/solutions ex ante and evaluate them ex post.  WH 150 – Evaluating Evidence – emphasizes the interplay between the nature of the research question/objective, as defined by the decision context, and the research design.  A research design includes choices about the experimental approach, data collection method (e.g., qualitative studies, surveys, laboratory and field experiments, and archival/observational data), sample, and data analysis technique.  The validity of the approach determines the inferences one can make from the evidence.  We take the perspective of a researcher.  The problems with a design or sample or measure can be subtle.  Learning by doing is the best way to develop into a sophisticated user of research-based evidence. 

Evaluating Evidence is a Wharton course and some examples will be about a business decision (e.g., investing in a particular line of business or geographic location or development of a new compensation structure).  But, the principles are applicable to social science research more generally, and we will also use examples of decisions by not-for-profit entities (e.g., education sector), government/regulatory bodies, and even individuals including investors and consumers.  Statistical training is not a pre-requisite.  The course only requires students to think about data issues such as methods for converting raw data, including qualitative data, into measurable constructs suited to statistical analysis.  The course provides exposure to types of data analysis methods available or commonly used in social science research but does not cover methods of data analysis in detail.


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.



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.