Looking for that last class for spring quarter? Are you a CS major looking to sample the best the humanities has on offer? An English major curious about world politics? Searching for a stimulating way to knock out a WAY? The Review has your back. Here’s a list of top-tier, prerequisite-free courses offered next quarter in the humanities and social sciences that bear our stamp of approval.
These classes will edify and challenge, leaving students with a better understanding of the world and how it got to be the way it is. They serve the most noble purpose of the university: not to teach vocational knowledge or inculcate the dogma of the age, but to promote — in the words of John Henry Newman — “true enlargement of mind.”
Title: Humanities Core: Great Books, Big Ideas — Europe, Modern
ExploreCourses listing: HISTORY 239C, DLCL 13, FRENCH 13, HUMCORE 13, PHIL 13
Time: Mondays and Wednesdays, 1:30–2:50pm
WAYS: A-II, ER
Professor Dan Edelstein, the man behind the Humanities Core series of classes (which we glowingly reviewed last quarter) teams up with his longtime mentor, collaborator, and friend, Professor Keith Baker, to deliver the Modern Europe installment of the series this spring. Baker, for his part, is one of the world’s foremost experts on the French Revolution, and is currently finishing a book on rabble-rousing revolutionary Jean-Paul Marat — whom he has compared to Donald Trump.
Baker and Edelstein are sure to deliver excellent lectures, and the class is a chance for humanities and non-humanities students alike to delve into the brilliant thinkers who defined the modern world: Rousseau, Nietzsche, Shelley, and others. Upperclassmen looking for a more rigorous humanities experience should consider joining several Review staffers in Professor Baker’s legendary French Revolution seminar instead (Thursdays, 1:30–4:20pm).
Title: Media Markets and Social Good
ExploreCourses listing: ECON 47
Time: Mondays and Wednesdays, 11:30am-1:20pm
WAYS: AQR, SI
Matt Gentzkow, a Professor of Economics and Senior Fellow at SIEPR, will guide students in applying tools from economics to examine media markets and their effect on society: a hot topic (to say the least). The guiding question of the course, one we all ought to ponder, is when and how does media best serve the social good? (Does it at all?) Topics broached will be plethoric in breadth and depth, ranging from two-sided markets and media bias to propaganda and fake news.
The course takes after Raj Chetty’s inaugural Econ 45: Using Big Data to Solve Economic and Social Problems. Both classes reflect an endeavor by the Economics department to make the novel, insightful applications of Economics accessible to underclassmen. The faculty is delivering an inventive concept: intro economics courses, disentangled from cursory textbooks, that give a taste of what is to come.
While we may caricature economics professors as elderly white men espousing free trade and pontificating on theory, Gentzkow’s proves otherwise. His new course delivers a fresh take on Economics, where learnings will be neither theoretical nor predictable, but instead tangible and innovative. If you took Professor Chetty’s class, are intrigued by political economy, or are interested in empirically studying media’s societal impact, hit enroll.
Title: High-Stakes Politics: Case Studies in Political Philosophy, Institutions, and Interests
ExploreCourses listing: POLISCI 231, POLISCI 331, CLASSICS 382
Time: Tuesdays, 1:30-4:20pm
WAYS: ER, SI
Political science departments across the country have undergone something of a bifurcation, with some continuing to emphasize traditional theoretical/philosophical approaches to politics, while others have embraced game theory as the primary means for explaining the world. This class promises to give you the best of both worlds. Political science professor Barry Weingast, who is also a professor by courtesy in the economics department, and classicist Josiah Ober are co-teaching what promises to be a brilliant seminar.
Best known among Stanford students for his “Origins of Political Thought” seminar, Professor Ober is a titan among Stanford's humanities faculty. Professor Weingast, meanwhile, chaired Stanford’s political science department between 1996 and 2001 and is a multiple award winner. Politics classes really don’t come much better than this one — if you want to learn about democracy, political institutions, political philosophy, political history, or any combination of the above, be sure to sign up.
Title: 20th Century Political Theory: Liberalism and its Critics
ExploreCourses listing: POLISCI 130, PHIL 171P
Time: Mondays and Wednesdays, 1:30–2:50pm
Brian Coyne, lecturer in political science, has been lately making a name for himself among undergrads as an earnest and energetic guide to the world of political philosophy. His classes this year on justice in the city and on democratic theory have received rave reviews for his clarity and approachability. This course promises to provide an overview of the most relevant political thinkers in the Anglo-American world over the past hundred years. Marxists and postmodernists may be disappointed by the syllabus, but those interested in the liberal tradition of political thought will discover a cornucopia of food for thought, from Arendt to Nussbaum and Rawls. Political-theory neophytes and veterans alike will find themselves in capable hands.
Title: Dangerous Ideas
ExploreCourses listing: COMPLIT 36A, EALC 36, ENGLISH 71, FRENCH 36, HISTORY 3D, MUSIC 36H, PHIL 36, POLISCI 70, RELIGST 21X, SLAVIC 36
Time: Wednesdays, 6:30–8:30pm
This new one-unit course is intended to figure in the growing constellation of interdisciplinary introductory courses in the humanities, which already includes Capitals and the Humanities Core. A rotating lineup of heavy hitters from across the humanities and arts will present their own “dangerous idea” to the audience. These range from Chris Bobonich, renowned Aristotle expert, who will present on the idea of evil in the work of Nietzsche; to art history cult figure Alexander Nemerov, who will lecture on “levity and gravity” (perhaps channeling Milan Kundera’s sense of the unbearable lightness of being). If you’re a stranger to the humanities, this class will be an excellent foothold; and if you’re a fellow-traveler, it’s sure to be a chance to catch lectures from leading lights who may have eluded you thus far.
Title: Myth and Modernity
ExploreCourses listing: COMPLIT 222A, GERMAN 222, GERMAN 322
Time: Thursdays, 3:00–5:50pm
Professor Amir Eshel, a master of German literature, shepherds students through Kafka's brilliant and bizarre oeuvre, featuring ideas as timely as ever for a “post-truth” society. Students will be exposed to some of the great works of German literature and learn from one of the experts in the field. The Director of Stanford's Europe Center, Eshel recognizes the power of literature to shape our modern lives and society, and by the end of this course, you will too.
What’s more, Eshel’s class assigns weekly blog posts and responses, which will help coax students to actually do the readings and ensure a lively discussion — a policy we championed in one of our recent articles.