Seminars in the Disciplines

Our departmental seminar options offer students small, introductory experiences in specific disciplines, with an emphasis on exploration, research, and core concepts in those disciplines. Alongside faculty experts, students build foundations in areas of study at Georgetown, in critical competencies like writing and researching, and develop as a cohort of scholars with shared interests.

Department of Psychology

Building Equitable Societies: Just Beginning


Rachel Barr, Department of Psychology
Phyllis Magrab, School of Medicine

Who may apply?

All first-year students in Georgetown College.

Course/credit equivalencies

One course and three credits.

Requirements Fulfilled

Social Science (one of two in psychology)
Engaging Diversity: Domestic
One psychology major or minor elective

Course ID: PSYC-267-01

Course Meeting Times: R 9:30am – 12:00pm

How can we use science to move the needle on challenges to child development? We focus on the intersection of children’s rights and needs to examine the effect of health, education, and social policies on children and families; we will cover the impact of COVID-19, immigration and separation, and incarceration.

This experimental, interdisciplinary seminar proceeds in the hope that society can be built more equitably by focusing on its most precious resource, its most basic building block, and its most vulnerable member: the child. Students of all backgrounds and interests are welcome, though those with interests in government, psychology, public policy, and public health are especially encouraged to apply. We will encounter a series of issues at the intersection of children’s rights and needs, addressing some of the central challenges of our times. Led by three faculty representing the fields of psychology, medicine, and law, students will engage these challenges in and beyond the classroom.

Together we will examine the origin and effect of health, education, and social policies on children and families for issues such as pregnancy and reproductive health, the impact of the opioid crisis, immigration and child separation, and the effects of incarceration. How can we use science to move the needle on these significant challenges to child development? How do systems of care and control (e.g. justice and welfare systems) intersect, and how do inequities multiply to impact child development? What are the short and long term effects of separating children from their parents at the border? How do we intervene in the opioid crisis to protect young children? How do low resourced families both domestically and globally cope with a pandemic?

Answers to these questions and others like them lie at the intersection of legal policy, both international and domestic, and developmental psychology. This course introduces students to these complex and interacting influences on children’s growth and development, their biopsychosocial origins, and their inequitable outcomes. The course will move from research to practice to policy, with a culminating project focused on children’s rights, needs, and child development.

I was trained as a developmental and clinical psychologist in New Zealand. My work focuses on how children pick up information, particularly from media, and how they apply that information in the real world. I’ve co-developed an intervention program for incarcerated teen fathers utilizing media, worked with parenting organizations, and investigated the effects of monolingual and bilingual homes on learning in other domains.

I am the director of the Georgetown University Center for Child and Human Development (GUCCHD), which brings together policy, research, and clinical practice for the betterment of children, youth and their families, especially those with special needs. Currently, I also co-lead the university-wide Initiative on Health Disparities to bring together the capacities of the broader university to address the compelling equity issues of our time. In my roles as UNESCO Commissioner, UNESCO Chairperson, and Vice-Chair of the US-Afghan Women’s Council, I advocate for services and policies for children, especially children with special needs.

Writing Studies Seminars

Reconsidering Writing


Phil Sandick, Department of English

Who may apply?

All first-year students in Georgetown College.

Course/credit equivalencies

One course and three credits.

Requirements Fulfilled


Course ID: WRIT-115-01

Course Meeting Times: TR 3:30 pm – 4:45 pm

In everyday life, it can be easy to see through writing, to skip over how writing functions and to focus only on the message. This class, however, will take up research on how writing shapes who we are, builds communities, and precipitates change. We will explore writing in all its diversity, from the massively high stakes to the mundane, from writing that creates social movements to writing that reminds you to pick up another roll of paper towels. The class will be organized around 3 main questions: what is writing and how does it work? How do you research writing? And why does research on writing matter? In pursuit of answers to these questions, we will:

  • Analyze current research
  • Reflect on our own writing experiences
  • Experiment with the research methods of Writing Studies

The work of the course will include reading published scholarship and investigating projects, such as The Meaningful Writing Project, the National Census of Writing, and writing-oriented public art projects like Candy Chang’s “I Wish This Was” and David Best’s “Temple.” We will conduct original research, and students will have the opportunity to submit their work to journals specifically devoted to publishing undergraduate research in the field of Writing Studies.

We will also explore places around the city relevant to our study, such as Planet Word, and we will connect with other researchers of writing from across the country.

I’m a writing teacher with an interest in digital writing, short fiction, and pedagogical theory. I grew up the son of two Queens, New York high school teachers, and on the long daydreaming-heavy subway commutes as a teenager to my own high school, I never imagined a career in teaching. Yet over the years, I came to see the world as awash in writing: It’s how we connect (and disconnect), identify with each other, and, ideally, move the discourse forward. I gravitated to the field of writing studies because I believe in the power of writing pedagogy: how demystifying what writing is and how it works can change students’ writing lives far beyond one course. As a writer-teacher-scholar, I continue to write short stories, present my research on digital pedagogy at conferences, serve on the Georgetown Writing Program assessment committee, and find teaching to be as rewarding as ever.

Writing and Agency in the Digital Media Era


Becca Tarsa, Writing Program

Who may apply?

All first-year students in Georgetown College.

Course/credit equivalencies

One course and three credits.

Requirements Fulfilled


Course ID: WRIT-115-02

Course Meeting Times: MW 3:30 pm – 4:45 pm

The rise of digital and social media have put writing front and center, giving it new powers of all kinds: it can get you hired, not hired, or fired just as quickly; it can bring down the powerful, or give the already-mighty clout in new areas; it lets us construct and curate our identities down to the smallest details (sometimes in ways that hide or challenge reality). “In the year 800, Charlemagne managed to get himself crowned as Holy Roman Emperor without being able to sign his own name,” linguistic Gretchen McCulloch observes in Because Internet. “Today it’s hard to imagine even organizing a birthday party without writing.” 

This semester, you’ll hone your critical reading and writing skills by examining these new powers of writing – and specifically, how (and when) people are choosing to use them. With so many choices of platform, so many occasions to share, so many conversations to join, how do we decide when to write and when to stay silent? And what determines the shape of that writing? We’ll consider the power dynamics and design choices shaping our agency as writers, and theorize what the future might hold for digital discourse and its impact on our world. You’ll conduct primary research into these questions, working both independently and collaboratively to contribute to these ongoing academic discussions. 

I teach in the English Department, as a core member in the Writing Program; this will be my fifth year at Georgetown. Growing up as an avid reader with a computer programmer dad, I was always interested in the intersection between writing and digital technology – and found an outlet for this interest in graduate school doing research into how people (particularly college students) make decisions about what they read and where they write online. In my years as a teacher and scholar of digital writing, my students have played an essential role in shaping my work – exploring digital writing together through research and discussions in the classroom is one of my favorite parts of the job.

Department of Government

Politics and Government Seminars


Joseph Hartman, Department of Government
Nadia Brown, Department of Government
Terrence L. Johnson, Department of Government
Marilyn McMorrow, Department of Government

Who may apply?

The First-Year Government Seminars do not require an application. Interested students may register for one of these courses during Fall 2021 registration. If accepted to another seminar, you may also choose to register for a Government Seminar (you are not restricted to one or the other). More information and instructions about Fall 2021 registration will be provided via email on Monday, June 28.

Course/credit equivalencies

One course and three credits.

Requirements Fulfilled

Social Science (one of two in government)
One foundational course in the Government major or minor

These seminars are designed to welcome students to the field of Politics, Government, or Political Science writ large, while focusing also on one of the four subfields the Government Department offers: Political Theory, Comparative Politics, US Politics, or International Relations.

In these seminars, students read important texts deeply, while learning how to think critically and how to write skillfully within the discipline.  

This fall, the Department of Government will offer four Politics and Government Seminars:

  • The First Amendment
  • Black Women in Politics
  • W.E.B. Du Bois and the Future of (American) Democracy
  • A More Perfect Union

Course ID: GOVT-120-01

Course Meeting Times: TR 2:00pm – 3:15pm

Free speech has occupied increasing space at the center of our public life, and with the rapid proliferation of social media and the unique dimensions of online communication the question of speech becomes ever more pressing.  But what do we mean when we refer to “free” speech? Does it include hate speech? If it does, should it? What about offensive symbols? Commercial advertisements? Verbal threats? What constitutes a verbal threat in the first place? And even if we can begin to answer those questions, we might further ask: under what conditions can we even consider speech “free” in the first place? These urgent problems occupy the heart of the U.S. Supreme Court’s First Amendment jurisprudence, which determines the extent to which the law requires protection of, inter alia, fighting words, obscenity, incitement, symbolic speech, commercial speech and hate speech. 

This course provides students with a solid grounding in that jurisprudence and acquaints them with the theoretical dimensions of, and controversies associated with, the principles underlying the caselaw. In so doing we will assess and examine the evolving tests, standards and approaches found in the decisions of the United States Supreme Court as well as the philosophical and theoretical foundations upon which these legal doctrines rest and upon which they are challenged. We thus consider not only the caselaw, but the theoretical literature that has emerged at the intersection of jurisprudence and political theory, as scholars wrestle with the relationship between liberal democracy, equality and speech and consider whether and to what extent current legal rules may impact or disfavor under-represented and under-resourced communities and traditionally marginalized populations.

Professor Joseph Hartman

About Joseph Hartman

A decade ago I initiated a fairly significant career transition, leaving a full-time civil litigation practice to pursue an academic career. I did so out of sheer academic curiosity coupled with the conviction that teaching in a university setting might enable me to offer a valuable contribution to the larger community. I arrived on the Hilltop as a first year Ph.D. student in 2009–and I never left! My teaching focuses on the history of political thought and on the First and Fourteenth Amendments. My interests run deeply in both directions—although I see them as complementary; constitutional law is simply political theory put into legal terminology! That said, I begin each semester with the recognition that many students will find the study of law unfamiliar, challenging, and even intimidating. This fact shapes the course material, how I present it, and the educational climate I seek to foster—one of collaboration, trust, and active, engaged exploration.

Course ID: GOVT-120-02

Course Meeting Times: TR 12:30pm – 1:45pm

This course will explore the political expressions of Black women in the United States from slavery to the present. Through a combination of books, primary sources, and film we will formulate answers to the question of how Black women in the United States articulated themselves as political actors in spite of the fact that for most of their time in this nation they have been defined outside of the body politic. We will take a chronological approach to studying the multifaceted political expressions of Black women in America. The primary question directed our inquiry will be how do Black women, who were (are) not recognized at full citizens because of both their race/sex as well as other complicating intersectional identities, continue to develop a political voice and push forward an agenda to advance their goals? We will focus on Black women’s struggles for personal autonomy, reproductive justice, social rights, sexual rights, civil rights and political rights which will deeper the understanding of American politics.

About Nadia Brown

Professor Nadia Brown

I am teaching the kind of class that I wish I could have taken as an undergraduate student. When I was a nascent Black feminist, I yearned for resources to help me make sense of how Black woman navigated a political world in the face of racism, sexism, capitalism, misogynoir, homophobia and White hetero-patriarchy. To me, understanding how those that are placed at the intersections of marginalized identities both experience and influence American politics provides a more accurate depiction of our nation. It is my goal as a professor to provide students with the necessary critical thinking skills and tools necessary to understand how individual behaviors and outcomes are intrinsically shaped by political structures and institutions. But just as important, I want my students to find the agency, joy and fortitude of Black women political actors.

Course ID: GOVT-180-01

Course Meeting Times: MW 9:30am – 10:45am

Black Political Thought remains haunted by a question raised more than a century ago by W.E.B. Du Bois: “how does it feel to be a problem?” When Du Bois raised the piercing question, he was attempting to expose “white contempt” for African Americans and blackness as embodied within the legal, political, and economic structures in the U.S. during African enslavement and reconstituted during the period of Reconstruction. Beliefs in Black inferiority established both a moral and political crisis facing the fledgling constitutional democracy. Du Bois retrieved the existential question to frame his understanding of what he called the “strange meaning of being black” on the eve of the 20th century. 

According to Du Bois, the study of ‘Negro problems’ would expose the deep limitations of the nation’s democratic aspirations and commitments as long as the nation refused to address the problem of blackness. Du Bois attempted to create a blueprint for the nation to reverse its course of actions. He ‘theorized’ the  white/black racial binary in and through African American political and religious traditions to uncover the nonpolitical reasons for legalizing and normalizing antiblackness. 

This Du Boisian move reflects an ignored aspect of Du Bois’s  political imagination: the search to answer the constant but shifting ethical questions facing a ‘problem people’: Who am I? What shall I do? This seminar will focus on the ethical turn within Du Bois’s early writings and retrieve Du Boisian ethics to examine debates on democracy, religion, and theories of justice.

About Terrance Johnson

Professor Terrence L. Johnson

I stumbled into my  field of study. In graduate school, I was trying to find a way to answer the question W.E.B. Du Bois raised at the turn of the 20th century: ‘How does it feel to be problem,’ and I discovered in my coursework that a single discipline could not provide an adequate answer. I needed many tools and different texts to shed light on the varying ways the “problem” emerged in modernity and during the rise of American slavery. In light of Black religion’s longstanding role in grappling with freedom, justice, and liberation, I turned to religious ethics and political philosophy to piece together Du Bois’s political imagination within his published and unpublished works. To expand my project, I explored Africana existentialism, aesthetics, and African American literature to dive more deeply into how antiblackness operates within Western moral traditions and political philosophies.

Course ID: GOVT 180-03

Course Meeting Times: TR 2:00pm – 3:15pm

This College First-Year Seminar is problem-driven. The problem? Democracy—or more precisely The Liberal Democratic Regime Type—is under threat around the globe. Some observers, including authoritarian leaders with their own agenda—claim the democratic experiment either is failing or has already failed—and deservingly so—because the flaws in democratic institutions combined with deep divisions, inequality, and polarization among their populations render democratic polities incapable of marshalling the will and resources to respond to crisis—no matter how threatening or catastrophic. The readings for this course probe the literature on “democratic backsliding,” including how and why “democracies die.” Although we consider this phenomenon globally, since we are studying in Washington DC, we focus on the problem close up: within the US Liberal Democracy. We begin by striving to understand, at a deeper level and through our class visit to the African-American Museum of History and Culture, that contradictory and self- defeating as it seems, the American Liberal Republic is grounded both in individual freedom and individual human enslavement. (A house divided in its foundation cannot stand.) The educational goal—or hope—of our seminar is that if we value the liberal democratic regime, we must better comprehend what we need to know and do to form “a more perfect union.” In the words of John Lewis: “Democracy is not a state. It is an act, and each generation must do its part to help build what we called the Beloved Community,
a nation and world society at peace with itself.”

About Marilyn McMorrow, RSCJ

Professor Marilyn McMorrow, RSCJ

Like so many students who enroll at Georgetown, I strive to do my part in contributing to a world within which it becomes for every single person to flourish and, within which, the goal and the test of any political institution or policy, local, national, or global is its effectiveness in respecting the equal moral worth, dignity, and freedom of the person. That passion led me to study, research, and teach at the intersection of normative Political Theory and International Relations. Thus most of my courses focus on pressing moral and ethical problems on our planet (for example, advancement of human rights, eradication of destitution, concern for forced migrants, response to the climate crisis, and controls on the use of force).

Recently, however, I have become deeply troubled by world-wide and national assaults on liberal democracy. I realized I used to assume liberal democracy—despite flaws and failures— was sturdy and would prevail. Thus I am trying to go deeper, to learn all I can about the threats to liberal democracy and how to counter them—why that is crucially important for anyone committed to basic and universal human rights, and what it will demand of citizens and policy-makers. That is why I want to teach a First-Year seminar “on forming a more perfect union.”

Department of Italian

Giro d’Italia: A Journey of Discovery Through Italian Language and Culture


Louise Hipwell, Department of Italian

Who may apply?

All first-year students in Georgetown College.

Course/credit equivalencies

One course and six credits.

Requirements Fulfilled

This is the first course toward completion of the core requirement in foreign language in Italian. To complete the requirement, students will need to take Intensive Intermediate Italian in a subsequent semester.

One foundational course in the Italian major or minor

Course ID: ITAL-011-03

Course Meeting Times: MTWR 10:00am – 11:00am

This seminar is addressed to students with no prior knowledge of Italian and will provide a solid foundation in speaking, understanding, reading, and writing, as well as the opportunity to explore Italy’s vast cultural heritage. As students take this first step towards gaining proficiency in the language and culture, they will also engage in experiential learning activities such as a private tour of the Italian Embassy, visits to Italian cultural institutions in D.C., and a cooking class by a local Italian chef.

During the course, students will learn how to use the Italian language for basic interactions of everyday life such as informal conversations, transactions in shops or tourist facilities, and in writing, through the composition of simple texts such as letters, messages, and brief essays on cultural topics. Beyond acquiring this practical knowledge of the language, students will engage with the country’s culture on a deeper level by exploring the many facets that constitute the idea of italianness. Italian culture is far from monolithic and considering its relatively small geographic area, the country is unique in its wealth of traditions, dialects, products, and culinary traditions. Our explorations will take us on a journey through Italy’s regions and their rich heritage focusing on topics ranging from geography to demography and from history to gastronomy. This will be accomplished through a series of specifically tailored intercultural activities, readings and films in English, as well as conversations with experts in these areas from both Italy and the US.

Professor Louise Hipwell

My true language-learning journey began with an Erasmus scholarship to the University of Bologna as an undergrad majoring in Foreign Languages. This life-changing study-abroad experience led to a Ph.D. in Italian Studies at Rutgers University and eventually my work here at Georgetown as Coordinator of the Italian language program.  The Italian department offers an engaging curriculum that builds on the intensive language track with most students beginning their first semester with no prior exposure to the language. For me, the greatest satisfaction comes from seeing our students return from a semester abroad in Italy, proud of the fact that they have been able to directly matriculate at an Italian University after just two years of study of the language.