Previous Study Seminars

Discover Alaska

The Struggle for Native Lands

The largest in area and one of the last to be admitted to the Union, the State of Alaska has been a continued site of contestation. A week of pre-trip course work will include the history of Alaska, with a focus on Native Alaskan communities and cultures. Topics covered will include settler colonialism, American exceptionalism, gold rushes, National Parks, deep sea fisheries, Native displacement, Native Alaskan sovereignty, cultural landscapes, and environmental justice movements. Our trip will start and end in Juneau, where students will tour a salmon hatchery and deep sea fishing boat, visit gold mines and museums. We will visit a rural Huna Tlingit community, visit Glacier Bay National Park, and spend a few days on a remote island, completely off the grid. Students will kayak, hike and participate in sustainably harvesting local resources. Time spent at the island will offer a unique space to reflect on social-ecological systems, strategies for tackling resource management, and Native Alaskan rights.

Leaders:  Julio Rodriguez, Associate Professor of American Culture and Brennan Keegan, Visiting Assistant Professor of American Culture

Discover Italy & Greece

A History of Numbers: Intercultural Studies in Italy and Greece

For most, mathematically inclined or not, the concept of number is an elementary building block of our mental landscape.  We consult this notion regularly to make sense of the world around us.  It is nearly inconceivable that our conception of number is something that developed in stages: that the abstraction of number actually comprises a host of associated ideas, forged over the course of millennia.

The development of numbers didn’t take place all within one culture, or one geographical region.  Often and unsurprisingly, cultures that had no contact with one another produced parallel development.  For instance, both the Babylonians and the Mayans evolved base 60 number systems.  Both cultures required a highly divisible base for their respective number systems in order to effectively explore their mutual interests in astronomy and architecture.  These two cultures, overlapping in neither space nor time, discovered identical mathematical solutions to identical mathematical needs.

While the development of the concept of number was spread across the globe, for over 1000 years Greece and the Rome formed a nexus for mathematical ideas both developed locally and also incorporated from the Near East, and North Africa.  Pythagoras, Archimedes, Eratosthenes, Fibonacci, and many others laid the arithmetic (and more generally the mathematical) groundwork later built upon by the mathematicians and scientists of the modern period.  These luminaries and the landscapes where they lived and worked are inexorably linked:  Archimedes seminal work came to a tragic end on the beaches of Syracuse; Fibonacci was born and worked in Pisa, and saw construction begin on a well-known but ultimately structurally flawed tower when he was three years old.

A visit to Italy and Greece can enrich one’s life in many ways.  These two countries abound with millennia of history and culture, and it is my wish that we partake in as varied an encounter as possible.  But among the many things I hope we can take away from this experience will be a better understanding of the culture and setting that gave rise to some of the most inventive thinkers in history.

For more information on scholarships/grant, please contact Associate Dean Bunny Goodjohn.

Leader: Marc Ordower, Associate Professor of Mathematics

Discover Spain

Conflict and Confluence: Christianity, Islam, and Judaism in the Art and Literature of Early Spain

This interdisciplinary class explores the unique intercultural exchanges that took place between Christians, Muslims, and Jews over the course of several centuries in premodern Spain. Through the study of art, architecture, and literature that incorporates contributions from all three cultures students will learn about key moments in Spain’s historical development from about the fifth to the seventeenth centuries. We will explore the architecture of the Visigothic period (5th-8th centuries); the Muslim conquest of the Iberian Peninsula in 711 and the rich influence of Moorish culture in Spanish art, architecture, and literature that resulted; the long Christian “reconquest” against Islam (c. 718-1492), which ended the same year that Spain’s Catholic kings expelled the Jews and sent Christopher Columbus to “discover” the New World; and the transition from Renaissance to Baroque art (16th-17th centuries).

Pre-Trip Course (fourth quarter, Spring 2020, 1 credit):

The pre-trip component of the course will comprise seven weekly lectures focused around a specific theme and complemented by assigned readings. Historical context will be heavily emphasized throughout the course to provide students with a solid foundation for understanding the unique conflicts and confluences between Christians, Muslims, and Jews that define Spain’s development into a modern nation. Students will develop a basic understanding of Spanish history and hone necessary skills for the analysis of art, architecture, and literature that will enrich their contact with Spanish culture while in Spain over the summer. In addition to examining the architecture of important Spanish landmarks including cathedrals, mosques, synagogues, and other sites, we will study the painting of Jusepe de Ribera, Francisco de Zurbarán, Diego Velazquez, and Francisco Goya, among other major Spanish artists. For the literary component of the course, we will read the anonymously published The Abencerraje (c. 1560), a courtly novella that explores a Muslim-Christian friendship during the “reconquista,” as well as selections from Miguel de Cervantes’ Exemplary Novels (1590-1612), the popular renditions of daily life in 16th- and 17th-century Spain which allude to the conflictive coexistence of Christians, Muslims, and Jews.

Summer Study Seminar in Spain (Summer 2020, 2 credits):

Equipped by the spring course with a knowledge base and the critical skills for analyzing art and literature, students will study original works of art and architecture in Spain and consider them within their physical and ritual contexts. In Granada, Seville, Córdoba and Toledo we will see examples of Christian, Islamic, and Jewish art and architecture. Barcelona and Madrid illustrate other aspects of Spain’s history, such as her role as a maritime power and the growth of the monarchy in Golden Age Spain. Portions of our days will be spent discussing the characters of The Abencerraje and Exemplary Novels and considering how these Christians, Muslims, and Jews lived together as friends or enemies and shaped both the physical fabric and the cultural heritage of today’s Spain.

For more information on scholarships/grant, please contact Associate Dean Bunny Goodjohn.

Leaders: Andrea Campbell, Professor of Art History and Daniel Cooper, Assistant Professor of Spanish

2019 – Discover China

Understanding Contemporary History, Society, and Culture
May 13-25, 2019

The China trip will focus on the socio-cultural and historic juxtapositions found in contemporary China. With China’s active participation in the global economy and the 2008 Olympics, Chinese culture and society are not only experiencing the mingling of traditional civilization and western modernization, but are also facing the challenges of a significant gap between rich and poor, old and new, east and west. By visiting Shanghai (the economic/financial center); Nanjing (the old capital during WWII under the Nationalist Party), Beijing (the political and cultural centers under the Communist Party); Xi’an (origin of ancient civilization), and touring with Chinese college peers, our students will have opportunities to see, feel and understand the dramatic changes, as well as the daily enjoyment and struggles, of the Chinese people.

Leaders: Associate Professor Kun An and Professor Gerry Sherayko

2019 – Discover Iceland

Exploring Geology and Sustainability
May 16-18 plus 7-day trip to Iceland May 20-27, 2019

Iceland is a land of geological splendor, featuring glacier-carved valleys, geysers and bubbling hot springs. Iceland is also an innovator in sustainable development, harnessing several forms of renewable energy and featuring sustainable urban planning and agriculture. In this summer study tour, we’ll explore Iceland’s amazing natural features and experience how the country has become a model for sustainable planning. Things heat up at Geysir geothermal area, cool down at Thorsmork Glacier Valley, and turn simply breathtaking at Gullfoss waterfall. We’ll also seek a glimpse of marine mammals on a whale watching tour. Before we depart for Iceland, we will spend a few days in Virginia honing our geologic skills and exploring how our own geologic history relates to Iceland’s current geologic setting.

Leaders: Professor Karin Warren and Associate Professor Sarah Sojka


2018 Immigration: Ireland to New York

Leaders: Professor Gerard Sherayko and Professor John D’Entremont

2018 Korea

Leader: Visiting Professor Seyong Kim

2017 Economic Well-being in Cuba

May 15-23, 2017

This course explores the universal quest for economic well-being through the socialist approach of Cuba. The contrasted market-based approach in the United States will be used to deepen students understanding of how macroeconomic systems affect individual outcomes. A travel component allows students to experience life under a different economic order and to directly observe indicators of economic well-being in a developing country.

Professor: Andria Smythe, Assistant Professor of Economics.

2017 Renaissance Art Study Tour

Florence and Rome
May 18-31, 2017

This two-week study tour will travel to sites where Renaissance art can still be seen in its original location and context. The group will also study art in the outstanding museum collections in Florence and Rome. Day trips to cities such as Siena and Ostia are also on the itinerary.

Professor: Andrea Campbell, Associate Professor of Art History


2016 The Occupier and the Occupied

Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands
May 16-29, 2016

World War I and World War II are the most significant events of the 20th century.  The world’s major powers—Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy, the Soviet Union, Japan, and the United States—engaged in global struggles whose consequences are still very much with us today.  In Europe, Germany was the center of both conflicts.  During the course of both wars German forces overran, fought in, and occupied neighboring countries and, in the case of World War II, imposed its racial policies that came to be known as the Holocaust.  This course will examine Germany’s role in the two world wars and the impact of those wars in two of Germany’s neighbors, Belgium and the Netherlands.  The course will cover topics such as the planning and execution of the war for “race and space,” the impact of the war on soldiers and civilians, and how Germans, Belgians, and the Dutch have remembered and memorialized the wars from 1914 to today.

During the travel portion of the seminar, among other sites we will visit World War I battlefields and memorials in Belgium, the Anne Frank House and Dutch Resistance Museum in the Netherlands, and the Wannsee Conference House and Sachsenhausen concentration camp in Berlin.

Professors: Gerard Sherayko, Professor of History and Marjorie Wheeler-Barclay, Charles A. Dana Professor of History.

2016 Environment and Global Change in Costa Rica

Costa Rica
May 17-26, 2016

Costa Rica comprises nearly 5 percent of global biodiversity, and boasts the world’s highest “Happy Planet Index” score of human well-being and environmental impact. In this study tour, we will examine how Costa Rica is balancing biodiversity preservation with the pressures of ecotourism and climate change. Come explore diverse ecosystems including cloud forests, volcanoes, tropical canopies, and coastal mangroves, and learn hands-on with local experts.

Professor: Karin Warren, Associate Professor and Herzog Family Chair of Environmental Studies


2015 Provence, Romans to Romance and Beyond

Provence, France
May 18-May 31, 2015

From a base in the ancient walled city of Avignon, a UNESCO world heritage site, and European Capital of Culture in 2000, students will study the history, art, politics, society, and language of this stunningly beautiful part of the world. The course is an exploration of what gives Provence and the provenceaux a shared sense of history and culture.

Professor: Alexander Chabot, adjunct instructor in modern languages

2015 Hybrid Cultures: Creative Expressions across Islamic Spain and Post-Colonial Morocco

Spain and Morocco
May 17-29, 2015

During this journey through Islamic Spain and Post-Colonial Morocco, students will ride a camel, walk through UNESCO World Heritage site, and more while exploring expressions of gender, national identity, and the intersection of past and present in art, architecture, film and literature.

Professors: Leanne Zalewski, assistant professor of art, and Jennifer Gauthier, associate professor of communication

2015 Archaeological Conservation Institute

Sardinia and Rome, Italy
May 18-June 13, 2015

Explore beautiful Italy while receiving instruction and hands-on experience in the conservation methods of Roman fresco and mosaics at the Centro di Conservazione Archeologica and stone carving in Rome with Peter Rockwell. Students will also participate in an excavation at a Nuraghic settlement in Sant’Imbenia.   More information…

Professor: Susan Stevens, professor of classics and The Catherine E. and William E. Thoresen Chair in Humanities.