Classes for the College Contrarian 2020-2021

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Classes for the College Contrarian 2020-2021

Every year Stanford releases its vast course list on ExploreCourses, but gives very little guidance for students to choose which classes they should spend their 12 to 22 units on. To help out, the Review has spoken with students of various academic backgrounds to compile a list of courses we loved for many subjects and levels. Though the upcoming school year will be unlike any other, we trust that these courses will enrich your Stanford experience.

Here you’ll find a list of classes that range many disciplines: THINK/PWR, Social Sciences, Humanities, and STEM.  Some are noted for challenging academic orthodoxy, some for their valuable skill sets, and some just for fun. Enjoy!


No one likes PWR, and unfortunately there is no way to get out of PWR1 unless you take ESF. However, there are a number of good options to fulfill PWR2. THINK, on the other hand, has many good choices. Here are a few we especially recommend:

COMPLIT 37Q: Zionism and the Novel, Russell Berman, Autumn (PWR 2).
This class fulfills the Writing 2 requirement and is taught by Review-favorite Russell Berman. Professor Berman is a genuinely caring professor and incredibly knowledgeable in his field. He loves to help students, and his classes are a must-take for any conservative students at Stanford.

ORALCOMM 177: Performance of Power: Oratory and Authority from the Ancient World to the Postmodern, Thomas Antony Freeland, Autumn and Spring (PWR 2).
This class is a good excuse to read, interpret, and discuss some of the most famous speeches in history, ranging from Ancient Greece to modern America, while also improving your own writing and speaking. Though the class format is heavily discussion-based, junior History major Cola Buskirk says it works surprisingly well even over Zoom and pushes you to form and defend your ideas.

THINK 54: 100,000 Years of War, Ian Morris, Spring.
Professor Morris is an energetic and witty lecturer, and the TAs are genuinely interested in helping you as a student. You have quite a bit of freedom with the final paper topic and a built-in support structure to guide you through the researching and writing process. By the end, you’ll have a good introduction to the political philosophies of Hobbes and Rousseau, and a good framework for writing college papers.

THINK 19: Rules of War, Scott Sagan and Allen Weiner, Winter.
Professors Sagan and Weiner are a dynamic team and experts in international security and law. The course culminates with a simulation of a White House national security briefing. Computer Science major and rising sophomore Mimi St Johns calls it, “a great way to learn not only about international law, but also moral philosophy.”


POLISCI 114S: International Security in a Changing World, Oriana Mastro and Harold Trinkunas, Winter.
Rising senior Corinne Zanolli ‘21 calls this her favorite class at Stanford. Taught by CISAC faculty, the class “discusses international security issues in a thoughtful way and allows students to participate in a simulation,” which allows for a deeper and more concrete understanding of policy and politics.

LINGUIST 130A: Introduction to Semantics and Pragmatics (LINGUIST 230A), Christopher Potts, Winter.
For those technically-minded students looking to dip their toes into Linguistics, senior Linguistics student Annika Nordquist says start here. Semantics and Pragmatics deals with legal questions, introduces math logic, and interfaces with natural language processing. Christopher Potts is an extremely knowledgeable instructor, who will ensure you know the material well by the end of the course, even if it takes work. However, for students less interested in CS, check out LINGUIST 110: Introduction to Phonology.

POLISCI 110D: War and Peace in American Foreign Policy (AMSTUD 110D, INTNLREL 110D, POLISCI 110Y), Kenneth Schultz, Spring. POLISCI 110D comes highly recommended as an invaluable insight into American foreign policy in the late 20th century, especially for prospective IR majors. The professors and TAs are all passionate about the topic, making this one of the few classes where you’ll look forward to the discussion section. Overall, interesting readings and a generally unbiased account of recent American foreign policy make for a great learning experience.

ECON 14: Navigating Financial Crises: From Emerging Markets to COVID-19 (PUBLPOL 14), Ramin Toloui, Spring.
ECON 14 focuses on the warning signs of economic disruption, and how to manage disruption once it arrives. Computer Science major Alex Lee notes, “Our generation is much defined by the 2008 financial crisis and the recent coronavirus financial crisis, and exploring the effects of financial crises is necessary to understand the economic context of the world we live in.” Professor Toloui teaches “signs of financial crises, market structures that exacerbate or contain crises and policies used to combat them. Students also learn how they themselves can navigate and survive financial crises.”

ECON 5: Frontiers in Economic Research and Policy, Rebecca Toseland, Winter.
The course features lectures on the cutting edge of applied economics research which each week brings in experts on the frontiers of economic research. Sophomore Alex Lee praises it as “an  insightful look into the edge of economic research.”


HISTORY 257E: History of Conservatism (HISTORY 357E), Jennifer Burns, Summer.
Taught by Professor Jennifer burns, a Hoover Fellow and Ayn Rand biographer, this course looks at the political and intellectual history of conservatism in America. As Senior Yasmin Samrai notes, “When else would we get the opportunity to learn about the intellectual foundations of American conservatism?” Studying and understanding intellectual conservatism is important for liberals and conservatives alike; this course presents the rare opportunity to look at both the origins and future of the political right in America.

HISTORY 233: Reformation to Civil War: England under the Tudors and Stuarts (HISTORY 333), David Como, Winter Professor Como does an excellent job of giving students of all academic backgrounds a detailed overview of the political and social turmoils of early modern England. History major Cola Buskirk says, “The lectures are entertaining, and the drama of Tudor and Stuart England is better than anything you’ll see on HBO.”

HISTORY 116: Traders and Crusaders in the Medieval Mediterranean, Rowan Dorin, Autumn.
Highly recommended by senior Annika Nordquist, Dorin teaches an exciting and engaging class sure to deepen your historical knowledge. Plus, what better way to fulfill “Engaging Diversity” than with a class on the Crusades?

HUMCORE 112: Great Books, Big Ideas from Ancient Greece and Rome (CLASSICS 37, DLCL 11), Christopher Krebs, Autumn.
HUMCORE is an excellent and in-depth introduction to many of the greatest texts in Western tradition and their relevance both to their contemporaries and to modern readers. If you didn’t do SLE, this is a solid introduction to foundational Western literature that is accessible to both Humanities and STEM students. Also check out HUMCORE 122 with Blair Hoxby in the Winter for Renaissance and medieval literature.

HISTORY 153: Creation of the Constitution, Michael McConnell, Spring Be warned, this is a law school class and no walk in the park. But, according to rising Senior Ben Esposito, it’s completely worth it as an unmatched and in-depth study of the US Constitution. Professor McConnell is a former appellate judge and constitutional scholar, and welcomes undergraduates into his class. His insightful lectures explore the Constitution’s creation through its intellectual and historical origins, and the debates within the Constitutional Convention.

RELIGST 278/378: Religion and James Joyce's Ulysses, Thomas Sheehan, Spring.
The course investigates the role religion plays in James Joyce’s Ulysses. Sarah Thomas ‘19 reports that the last course she took with Sheehan completely changed her way of thinking about religion and religious transcendence. Additionally, Thomas says,“Professor Sheehan is extremely knowledgeable of key figures in ancient Greek, scholastic, and continental philosophy, as well as receptive to important questions concerning being and God, alterity, and beauty.”

GERMAN 57N: Nietzsche and the Search for Meaning, Matthew Smith, Autumn.
Sophomore CS major Mimi St Johns recommends this introsem as a great way to learn about the philosophy of not only Nietzsche but Schopenhauer and Kant as well. The syllabus notes “almost every page of Nietzsche’s work could contain its own trigger warning.” It’s a great opportunity to contemplate deep philosophical concepts; one of the highlights was a week spent on the philosophical interpretation of Wagner’s work.

ENGLISH 91: Creative Nonfiction, Autumn, Winter, Spring, and Summer.
Time to sharpen your nonfiction writing skills! The course culminates in a long personal essay which, through rounds of edits and class discussion, helps you become a better writer and more comfortable sharing your writing with others, as you both take criticism and praise. Junior Alexis Levit says, “It was a great way to get into the habit of journaling. I loved writing personal pieces that were reflective and cathartic, unlike essays in more academic writing classes.”


The Classics Department’s history sequence is a fantastic way to gain a solid grasp of ancient history. Learn the history of the Assyrian and Persian Empires, ancient Greece, and Rome. Senior Annika Nordquist writes of the series, “Ian Morris is easily one of Stanford's most interesting, engaging, and funny professors, and Walter Schiedel is an eminent scholar. An understanding of the history foundational to our culture is essential to any University education, and Stanford's introductory sequence is fun, informative, and accessible to historians of all levels.”  
CLASSICS 81: Ancient Empires: Near East (HISTORY 117), Ian Morris, Autumn
CLASSICS 83: The Greeks (HISTORY 101), Ian Morris, Winter
CLASSICS 84: The Romans (HISTORY 102A), Walter Scheidel, Spring


PSYC 54N: Genes, Memes and Behavior, Scott Hall, Spring.
For the less STEM-inclined students, this introsem is a fun way to fulfill SMA. “Dr. Hall creates a comfortable environment for sharing and even disagreement that I haven’t experienced in any other class,” says Pre-Med junior Michelle Murata, “and the content itself is especially relevant in our world today where memes proliferate in an unprecedented way due to the internet.”

CS 103: Mathematical Foundations of Computing, Cynthia Lee, Keith Schwarz, and Ryan Smith, Autumn, Winter, Spring, and Summer.
This course explores the limits of computing, and at times crosses into the philosophical realm. Sophomore Alex Lee enjoyed the class because, “we often speak about concepts such as logic, science, or rationality without really understanding what it means. This course introduces the rigorous proof-based structure that underlies mathematics and logic.” For non computer science students, “this course can be an eye opening chance to see the world in a new perspective.”

CS 182: Ethics, Public Policy, and Technological Change (COMM 180, ETHICSOC 182, PHIL 82, POLISCI 182, PUBLPOL 182), Rob Reich, Mehran Sahami, and Jeremy Weinstein, Winter.
CS182 is the rare computer science class that affords an opportunity to view privacy, big data, and artificial intelligence from a philosophical and policy perspective. Anyone with interest in the tech industry could benefit from discussing the moral and ethical dilemmas of algorithms in society.

CS 106L: Standard C++ Programming Laboratory, Keith Schwarz and Julie Zelenski, Autumn/Winter.
Whether you are currently taking CS106 or have moved well beyond it this class is a great way to get a firm grasp of real-world programming. Pre-Med junior Claire Muscat writes, “CS106L, a companion course for CS106B, is such a wonderful class that will enable you to add even more skills to your C++ toolkit. The projects were engaging and fun, and it offered a chance to practice skills learned in 106B and build upon them for a more complete understanding of the language.”

BIOE 122: Biosecurity and Bioterrorism Response (EMED 122, EMED 222, PUBLPOL 122, PUBLPOL 222), Milana Boukhman Trounce, Winter.
This class is an excellent choice for those with an interest in defense or national security. Junior Alexis Levit commends this course’s relevance as it “informs students not only of the history of infectious disease, but also of the fascinating field of bioterrorism.” Past guest lecturers for the course have included Condoleezza Rice. This is a great opportunity to learn about bioterrorism, the emergence of synthetic biology, and world agricultural security.

The Review has also gathered a list of classes taught by Hoover Fellows. Stanford students have the incredible opportunity to take classes from scholars at one of the world’s best research institutions. Take advantage of the Hoover Institution's great wealth of knowledge in political science, economics, and foreign policy.

Thank you to everyone who contributed class recommendations. Though we could not incorporate every recommendation, we appreciate all your help!

Contributors: Ben Esposito (Political Science and Philosophy, ‘21), Paul Gorka (Classics and Pre-Med, ‘22), Alex Lee (Computer Science, ‘23), Alexis Levit (Human Biology, ‘22), Michelle Murata (Chemistry and Pre-Med, ‘22), Claire Muscat (Computer Science and Pre-Med, ‘22), Annika Nordquist (Linguistics and Classics, ‘21), Yasmin Samrai (History, ‘21), Sarah Thomas (Philosophy/Religious Studies, ‘19), Corinne Zanolli (Political Science and Economics, ‘21)

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