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Upcoming History, Genealogy, and Social Science Seminars

This list is of upcoming seminars only. Since most seminars meet more than once in a term, if a class has already met at least once, it will no longer show up on this list. To find a seminar that has already started or has finished, use the calendar and set the date range to include the seminar's starting date.

Starting: Tuesday, September 16, 2014
Tuesdays, September 16 – November 18
Both sections of this class are full. Registration has closed.
The First World War, 1914–1918
Led by Frank Biletz

Note: There are two sessions of this class to accommodate demand. They both have the same content.

The First World War transformed the European political and social order, as well its cultural life, completely and irrevocably. As we approach the centennial of its beginning, this course will delve into the many ramifications and interpretations of WWI, including the...

Starting: Tuesday, September 16, 2014
Tuesdays, September 16 - November 18
The Lincoln-Douglas Debates
Led by Robert Sprott

In 1858 Stephen A. Douglas and Abraham Lincoln, fighting for the Illinois senate seat then held by Douglas, met in seven debates. Focused on the question of slavery and its extension into the western territories, these “joint discussions” went to the very heart of American society and government. More than a century and a half later, they still hold up a mirror wherein we must see and choose...

Starting: Tuesday, September 16, 2014
Tuesdays, September 16 – November 18
This class has been cancelled.
Upstate–Downstate: Chicago in Illinois, the Midwest, and the World
Led by Tim Lacy

This discussion-based seminar will survey the “Upstate-Downstate” divide in Illinois history. Is it a reality? If so, how powerful is the trope? If mythical, what undermines the idea? If half true, what topics transcend the divide? Readings include Spinney’s City of Big Shoulders, Biles’ Illinois: A History of the Land and Its People, and Longworth’s Caught in...

Starting: Wednesday, September 17, 2014
Wednesdays, September 17 - November 19 (class will meet October 30 rather than October 29)
Medieval Britain 1066-1307 through Historical Fiction
Led by Matthew Bird

Explore the highlights of Medieval British history– including the Norman Conquest, the Anarchy, the Anglo-Norman invasion of Ireland, and the Conquest of Wales–through quality historical fiction. Novels by Morgan Llywelyn, Sharon Penman, and others will introduce the period. With the readings as background, class meetings will discuss issues such as church-state relations, food and drink,...

Starting: Wednesday, September 17, 2014
Wednesdays, September 17 – November 12
Picturing the Great War: Conflict, Representation, and Memory in American Visual Culture
Led by Patricia Scanlan

American society and culture underwent profound transformations in the wake of the unprecedented violence, loss, and trauma of World War I. Studying diverse materials from American visual culture such as posters, paintings, illustrations, sheet music, and sculpture, we will analyze how the Great War affected conceptions about battle, the human body, identity, nationalism, and collective memory...

Starting: Wednesday, September 17, 2014
Wednesdays, September 17 – November 19 (class will not meet September 24)
The Hobbit: J.R.R. Tolkien's Mythic Sources
Led by Karl E. H. Seigfried

Discover the roots of The Hobbit in Norse mythology, German legend, and English literature. Participants will read J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic novel in detail as they explore ancient poems and tales of wizards and wanderers, dwarves and dragons, heroes and hoards.

Award-winning Norse mythologist Karl E. H. Seigfried writes The Norse Mythology Blog,...

Starting: Wednesday, September 17, 2014
Wednesdays, September 17 – November 5 (class will not meet October 15)
New space added!
The Rise and Fall of Ancient Maya Civilization: A Comparative Perspective
Led by Don McVicker

Of all the pre-Hispanic civilizations of the New World, the Maya inspire a particular fascination for scholars, artists, and the public. How did they achieve such splendor in the inhospitable rain forest and why did their civilization collapse from such heights? Although Maya history challenges those who seek to trace its undulating path, they were not the only early civilization to experience...

Starting: Thursday, September 18, 2014
Thursdays, September 18 - October 16 (class will not meet October 9)
It Didn't All Go Up in Flames: Exploring Pre-Fire Chicago at the Newberry
Led by Ginger Frere and Matt Rutherford

Worried that the Fire burned your chances of discovering what Chicago was like in its early days? Think again! Join us as we explore a gold mine of pre-Fire treasures, many drawn from the Newberry’s collections, including maps, diaries, church records, newspapers, and sheet music. Selected primary source readings will further inform our discussions about what life was really like for early...

Saturday, September 20, 2014
George Kennan and American Diplomacy
Led by Joseph Harrington

The short book American Diplomacy, 1900–1950 by the late scholar-diplomat George F. Kennan, is an unusual classic: a critique of US foreign policy widely used in the training of american diplomats. Participants will discuss this text and and assess whether there is a place in the foreign policy of a democracy for Kennan’s “realist” style of dispassionate analysis. For the...

Starting: Saturday, September 20, 2014
Saturdays, September 20 – October 25 (class will not meet October 18)
Inanna: Sumeria's Erotic Goddess, and Solomon's Song
Led by Susanne Sklar

Inanna’s story may be the oldest on earth. In it, the goddess copes with a serpent-infested tree, tricks the god of wisdom, builds human civilization, delights in extravagant sexual joy, and descends to the underworld. We will compare this Sumerian mythology with later biblical writing, tracking Innana’s influence on depctions of Abraham (whose father came from Ur, one of Inanna’s cities) and...

Starting: Saturday, September 20, 2014
Saturdays, September 20 – November 22
Victoria and Edward VII: The British Monarchy, 1837–1910
Led by Frank Biletz

The Victorian and Edwardian periods encompassed enormous social, political, and cultural changes. In this exploration of Britain’s longest-reigning monarch and her pleasure-loving son, we will discuss the Victorian ideals of domesticity, Prince Albert and the Great Exhibition of 1851, political reforms during the era of Disraeli and Gladstone, challenges to the dominance of the British...

Starting: Tuesday, September 23, 2014
Tuesdays, September 23 – November 11
This class is full and registration has closed.
How War Changed Women: Perspectives on British Life, Fiction, and Fashion during World War I
Led by Debra Mancoff

This seminar considers the lives of British women from the years leading up to the Great War through its aftermath (1910–1925). As women coped with wartime, they forged and expressed new identities through memoirs, novels, imagery, and dress. Seminar discussions will include Brittain’s Testament of Youth, West’s Return of the Soldier and Barker’s Life Class,...

Starting: Thursday, September 25, 2014
Thursdays, September 25 – November 13
Queen of Instruments: The Violin and Its Music
Led by Guy A. Marco

Traceable to the harp and lyre of antiquity, as well as to the medieval fiddle, the violin began to acquire its present shape and character in the seventeenth century. At first it was an ensemble instrument, but its possibilities as a solo instrument were soon recognized. Major composers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries have written sonatas and concertos for the violin, and virtuoso...

Starting: Saturday, September 27, 2014
Saturdays, September 27 – November 15
This class has been cancelled.
Louis XIV, His Court, and Seventeenth–Century France
Led by Jeanine Teodorescu

This course offers a well-rounded introduction to Louis XIV’s energetic and complex personality, his complicated love-life, his sophisticated political skills, and his accomplishments in the expansion and modernization of France. Nancy Mitford’s deeply researched The Sun King and W. H. Lewis’ witty and sharp overview of French society in The Splendid Century will contribute...

Starting: Tuesday, September 30, 2014
Tuesdays, September 30 – December 2 (class will not meet November 25)
Marcel Proust's The Guermantes Way
Led by Mike Levine

The third volume of In Search of Lost Time, Proust’s monumental novel, is a dazzling portrait of the salon society of late nineteenth-century Paris rendered in loving detail even as it is ruthlessly satirized. The narrator discovers the shallowness of a world he had mythologized as a boy in Combray. At the same time, mysterious figures at the margins of the previous volume assume...

Starting: Wednesday, October 1, 2014
Wednesdays, October 1 – November 12
This class has been cancelled.
Mightier than the Sword: The Legacy of Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin
Led by Rob Prince Obey

Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin became a cultural phenomenon soon after it first appeared in the National Era abolitionist newspaper in June 1851, and it has remained an important, although complicated, literary landmark. Using a wealth of historical materials culled from the archives of theater, music, film, and literature, the seminar will reveal why ...

Starting: Saturday, October 4, 2014
Saturdays, October 4 - November 8
Chicago Women's History, 1870-1930
Led by Joan Johnson

Between 1870 and 1930, Chicago was home to some of the nation’s most important women reformers, including Jane Addams, Frances Willard, and Ida B. Wells. Seminar participants will gain a deeper understanding of the lives and times of six influential Chicago women. This biographical approach uses their lives and writings to discuss issues including progressive reform, cross-class coalitions,...

Starting: Wednesday, October 15, 2014
Wednesdays, October 15 – November 19
Richard J. Daley: Man and Myth, Life and Legend
Led by Bill Savage

In this seminar, we examine the many ways in which Richard J. Daley shaped modern Chicago, both physically (expressways, universities, public housing) and metaphysically (in how Chicagoans understand each other and create their sense of identity). We will read Mike Royko’s Boss, excerpts from American Pharaoh, and media coverage of Daley in order to see the impact, both good...

Starting: Wednesday, October 15, 2014
October 15 – December 3 (class will not meet November 26)
Unfinished Manuscripts, Unresolved War: Kafka, Hašek, and Prague in WWI
Led by Dagmar Herrmann

Kafka, the inscrutable founding spirit of literary modernism, and Hašek, a satiric, cynic, and lapsed revolutionary, were born in the same city in the same year, spent most of their lives in Prague, wrote their world-famous books around the time of World War I, and died a year apart. What kind of an environment produced writers as dissimilar and alike as Hašek and Kafka? History, geography,...

Saturday, October 18, 2014
Beginning Genealogy: A Crash Course
Led by Marsha Peterson-Maas

The Newberry has one of the strongest genealogy research collections in the nation. This one-session course will show you where to begin tracing your family’s history in America. Learn about genealogical relationships, traditional family trees and charts, DNA testing for kinship, and accredited research methods for finding information at home and in public sources.


Starting: Thursday, October 23, 2014
Thursdays, October 23 – December 4 (class will not meet November 27)
Myth, Memory, and the Meaning of Reconstruction
Led by Joseph Harrington

While the Reconstruction of the former Confederate states began with efforts to empower former slaves, it ended with a fateful choice to pursue reconciliation between the North and South at the expense of racial justice. This seminar will discuss the progression and ultimate collapse of Reconstruction, including the conscious efforts afterward to develop a narrative of the Civil War that...

Saturday, October 25, 2014
Swab Your Cheek: DNA Kinship Results
Led by Marsha Peterson-Maas

Get the most out of your mtDNA, Y-DNA and atDNA test results. We will learn which biological components are tested, who in your immediate family the tests apply to, how to interpret the test results, how to prepare accredited lineage charts, network to find cousins, prepare spreadsheets for results comparisons, and join free project groups. This seminar also includes a private, five-minute “...

Starting: Saturday, November 8, 2014
Saturdays, November 8 - 15
Mandate for Mobilization: The Franco-Russian Alliance and World War I
Led by Joseph Harrington

It is common to blame Germany and/or Austria-Hungary for World War I, but renowned American diplomat and scholar George Kennan had a different interpretation. In his study of the 1894 alliance between France and Russia, Kennan ruefully reflected on how those countries committed themselves to military mobilization at the expense of diplomatic flexibility, virtually guaranteeing a European war....

Starting: Saturday, November 15, 2014
November 15 - 22 (November 22 session will meet at the Garfield Park Conservatory)
Tour of Garfield Park Conservatory
Led by John Raffetto

The Garfield Park Conservatory on Chicago’s West Side was the concept of Prairie School landscape architect Jens Jensen. At the time of its completion in 1908, the conservatory was considered revolutionary for the presentation of its plant collection, including its themed rooms such as the beautifully designed Fern Room. We will focus on the history, as well as the current and future usage, of...